A Travellerspoint blog

Alex knob

Glaciers, blowholes and ‘The Descent’

semi-overcast

The last three days have been a glut of glorious natural sights for the two of us. It started off yesterday when we found ourselves in the glacier ridden Southern Alps. We did several walks on the valley sides of the Fox Glacier even fording a small Alpine river to get to one of the viewpoints. Alex already geeking out by this point, almost overloaded when we got to walk to the terminal face of the glacier, through the old glacier valley (the part which has been eroded by the glacier before it retreated). The viewing stop was 200m from the face and it was amazing being so close to something of such immense weight and power that it can literally rend and tear the land apart, gouging deep channels as it ploughs inexorably, unthinkingly forward.

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We even got to hear the glacier groaning as it shifted its bulk down the valley and saw a chunk of ice fall from the terminal face. Even after having seen this ice fall, the multiple warning signs and the rope stretched around the viewpoint, we saw a couple ignore it all and go for a closer look. They were pretty stupid as in the last year there has been two deaths due to ice falls and numerous injuries. After tut-tutting to ourselves we set off and went to the Franz Josef glacier.

We again walked through the old valley which looked like a barren, alien landscape before coming to the stop point, 500m short of the terminal face. Alas, twas not as awesome as the Fox Glacier but we did get to see some rather large parrots chowing down on a sign. In the van on the way to our overnight stop we went passed a sign paying homage to a particular part of Alex. How they found out the details heaven knows, although with a good satellite almost anyone can see him going to the loo.

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Yesterday we raced up the coast for the ferry today only making one stop. But we are so glad we did. At a little place called Punakaiki on the West coast are some amazing limestone rock formations, carved by the sea and the elements. The rocks are formed in layers stacked a top one another looking like large petrified pancakes. To add to this there are several blow holes and as a wave pounds into the rocks a stream of water and spray is shot out of the top. There are also surge pools and hollows which between them give the most fantastic images and sounds as the sea relentlessly falls upon the rock.

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After wandering around the entire area (twice) we set off in search of the nearby caves in the Punakaiki cavern. The caves are well laid out for beginner caving and we made it about half a kilometre into the pitch black before realising that relying on our meagre phone torch that had only one bar of battery left probably wasn’t the best idea. Regretfully we retired, with Alex especially wishing for a proper torch, and resigned ourselves to the tedious drive up the coast. (Tedious driving, the views still as breathtaking as ever).

And so it was today that we boarded the ferry, but not before having completed the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive, a fitting end to our time in the South Island. Bathed in beautiful sunshine the road darted in and out with the coast, winding its way between Havelock and Picton. It truly has been an amazing whirlwind in the South Island and it is a bittersweet feeling leaving it behind but looking onwards to our last couple of days in the North Island.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Not really a rule more of an observation; for us Fox Glacier was better than the much hyped Franz Josef.
  • Don’t go past the barriers! Ice is heavy and a couple of tonnes falling on your noggin can hurt.
  • If you go to the Pancake rocks go at high tide and for the cavern take a torch (and spare batteries).
  • A nice coastal drive is a great way to finish off the South Island.

Posted by rexontheroad 09:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Town of obesity

Getting lost, getting wet and getting fat

Queenstown: the town where all backpackers seem to flock to when visiting New Zealand. It’s the place to bungy jump, white water raft, skydive and kayak. Except you can do any of these activities all over New Zealand and for a cheaper price. Therefore we went to Queenstown to actually see the town and hoped there’d be enough to keep us entertained. There wasn’t.

We started off in the i-site (NZ’s info centres) trying to find something free or cheap to do but they don’t seem to be commonly used words here. Defeated we pinned our hopes on a place called Cookie Time whose leaflet described it as a five dimensional experience. We scampered along hoping to fill our hungry bellies with cookie freebies only to find ourselves in a shop. That’s pretty much all it was and trying to limit our spending in a pretty expensive place we ended up with one hot cookie each.

It finally stopped raining for the first time that morning so we decided to venture up and see Queenstown from above. Shunning the $28 return cable car we took the tiki trail, a two hour return walk. The track it turned out was more of a mud slide with the occasional rock. Considering how much it had rained over the past day we squelched and clambered our way up to the top where the views were impressive, although slightly hidden by cloud.

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If we found the walk up hard, going back down was a nightmare. Alex, wearing his trademark flip-flops as usual, found it particularly difficult to manoeuvre through the mud and we descended at a snails pace. With a quite regular frequency we heard the other going ‘woooop’ as they slid down the bank. Somehow we made it to the bottom with neither of us falling over once. Yay!

Now around lunchtime we decided to get some grub and headed for Fergburger, a place we’d been recommended by Alex’s friend. When we got there however it was clear that everyone else's friends had also recommended the place to them as the queue was out of the door. After a bit of a wait to order we managed to squeeze onto a bench where we patiently waited for fifteen minutes before our burgers were ready. It was then that we realised just why it was so popular. The burgers were bigger than our faces and tasted delicious. Rach had a Sweet Bambi which was deer with plum chutney and Alex had the Big Al, the largest burger on the menu containing egg, beetroot, two burgers, bacon and much more. Our bellies sufficiently fit to burst we gave up on Queenstown.

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After a night spent by yet another lake we set off for a day in Wanaka with two things on our to do list; Puzzlin’ World and Wanaka Beerworks Brewery. We began in Puzzlin’ World figuring we could run around it in around two hours. An hour in and we were still trying to find our way out of the damn maze. We are normally both pretty good at them but this one was impossible. We managed to find three of the corner towers without too much trouble but we really struggled to find the last one and the way back out again. Constantly retracing our steps we finally made it out in one piece. The rest of the place was average. There were some fantastic optical illusions like the room of faces on the walls that followed you around. The rest of the features however were ones we’d already seen in Australia (An aMAZEing day). We actually spent more time in the games room playing with the puzzle sets.

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We moved on for a relaxing lunch by the lake but perhaps it was too relaxing as we overran on time and missed the brewery tour- oops! Out of ideas we headed to the library intending to catch up with some overdue messages, however Wanaka has obviously had some experience of backpackers using up their internet so there was a charge. Begrudgingly we went to a cafe with wireless so we could at least get a coffee with it- just a few extra calories for a very fatty few days.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you’re looking to get yourself stuck into some expensive extreme activities then Queenstown is the place to be. If you’re not then we wouldn’t advise hanging around there for too long.
  • If you want huge, delicious burgers then join the queue at Fergburgers.
  • There’s some free internet places in Wanaka but they come at the price of a coffee.

Posted by rexontheroad 20:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Milford sounds amazing

Lakes, fiords and awe

Next on our to do list was Milford Sounds, suggested by some to be the most beautiful place on earth. From Dunedin though it was a bit of a mission (in NZ terms at least) so we left a day for driving across here. It was by no means a boring day and we spent most of it with our noses pressed up against the windscreen in awe of the landscape around us. Unfortunately there is absolutely no freedom camping in the Te Anau/Milford Sounds region so we forked out for a campsite and arrived there about four. As we had time to spare we wandered to the lake right on our doorstep and were surprisingly astounded by the beauty of it. It was a gorgeously blue lake surrounded on most sides by blue mountains, almost straight out of a painting. We spent some time on the pier enjoying the view before Alex decided the lake was too beautiful to remain untouched so he stripped down to his bathers and dived in. However after Alex’s girly shriek after entering the freezing water, Rach decided she was happier taking photos and as the below shows she doesn’t make a bad photographer.

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The following day we travelled the windy, hilly rollercoaster that Kiwis call State Highway 94 to Milford Sound. The views seen, between moments of stomach churning bends, were jawdropping. Even the one place where there were no views, the single lane 2km tunnel, was incredible. It was bored straight through a mountain and still had rough hewn edges, almost like a lengthened cave and was as dark as one as, even with full beam on, it was still pitch-black. As we emerged blinking into the sunlight and weaved amidst the snow, ice and boulders, Alex in particular geeked out a bit at some of the glaciated landscape, a theme that was only to continue as the day unfolded.

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We boarded our Jucy Cruize (2 for 1 as we’re travelling with Jucy) and steamed our way out of the harbour into a stunning world with view after view. There were cascading waterfalls, peaks (including Mitre Peak the worlds tallest mountain rising straight from the sea floor), glaciated valleys, hanging valleys and, near the mouth, chopping waves. We had a brilliant time seeing it all and listening to the excellent commentary from the Cap’n. Rach was even more blessed because not only did she have this commentary but also Alex’s who expanded on every fact and gave an extremely long and not entirely interesting geography lesson. We even managed to get soaked twice, once from waves spraying over us and once from a waterfall that we were driven practically underneath, as you can see below.

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All-in-all we had a brilliant day made even greater by the drive back where the views had lost none of their magic and still had us gawping through the windows with the only brief distraction being when we joined a Jucy convoy, tagging on behind two other Condos’s. Obviously shaken by Rach’s superior driving skills (not an amazing viewpoint) they soon pulled over leaving our way free for a quick petrol stop in Te Anau then on towards Queenstown.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you travel Jucy look out for special offers like the 2 for 1 in Milford.
  • There’s no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sounds so stock up if you’re driving.
  • There’s no freedom camping in the area, book into a campsite or for the more adventurous there’s plenty of DOC ones en route.

Posted by rexontheroad 23:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Call that a castle?!

A steep street, Jimmy’s Special and a cartoon

Our next stop was Dunedin and after arriving we suffered a night fraught with fear at the possibility of hearing a knock and a voice telling us we’d been fined for freedom camping. So waking up far too early we headed to Larnach Castle to wait until nine in the morning when it opened. This was on our to do list as it is touted as New Zealand’s only castle. This is somewhat misleading as it is not the castle one would expect coming from Europe. Instead it is more of a rich man’s home, and not a particularly large one at that, with a turret stuck on the side. Nonetheless we had a great time there delving into the history and exploring the house and gardens. We also particularly enjoyed that, unlike many stately homes in the UK, none of the artefacts or exhibits on display were roped off and you could wander around at will.

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Our next stop was Baldwin Street, a suburban street on the outskirts of Dunedin. Why did we visit this street in particular you may ask? Well it happens to be the steepest street in the world. On driving up to it we were concerned that we weren’t in the right place as the streets looked ordinary sized. It wasn’t until we turned onto Baldwin Street that both of us gasped in shock at the sight in front of us! The road rose ramrod straight reaching straight into the sky. We raced on up it choosing to brave the steep road as opposed to the soppy option of the stairs and it was worth the climb just to say that we’d done it.

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After the excitement of the street we retired to our campervan and realised how cabin feverish we were feeling. So we decided to treat ourselves. A quick stroll to the cinema and we’d chosen our film before heading on to the Italian restaurant for the best pizza either of us has tasted; Jimmy’s special pizza at Bennu’s. Our hunger sated we donned our 3D glasses and settled to watch Hotel Transylvania. We had a really good night and it was exactly what we had both needed.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Don’t trust the New Zealand tourist board; Larnach Castle is no castle. It is still worth a visit though if a little pricey.
  • If you are on the road for a long time make sure to take time for yourselves before the cabin fever sets in.

Posted by rexontheroad 23:01 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Muddy bums and empty tums

Blue lakes, a wet walk and a beautiful church

After selecting an amazing picnic spot for a beautiful overnight stop the night before last, we set off yesterday for Lake Tekapo. This was something of a diversion from our route but one of Rach’s family had said that the church there was well worth a visit. As we rounded the last corner and the lake hove into view we knew that it had been worth it. The lake was truly stunning, like a jewel in the land. It was an intense bright blue that neither of us could get enough of. We made it to the church, more through luck than anything due to the massive distraction that was the lake. The church was very picturesque and as opposed to the traditional stained glass windows behind the altar, there was plain sheet glass allowing the breathtaking views to penetrate the room. It was amazing and we’re not surprised that it is a popular place for weddings. It was only drizzling when we left the church and, wanting to see more of the lake, we decided to go for a walk up a nearby hill (read mountain). As we set off from the campervan the drizzle got a little heavier but nothing too worrying so we set off in high spirits.

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Fifty minutes later we reached the summit. Grumpy. Wet. Cold. Hungry. The rain shower had turned into what was practically a storm and so bedraggled we sought shelter at the cafe. Even though there was a glass frontage we were in no mood to look out over the views, even had they not been as obscured by the raincloud that we’d just climbed through. After a brief while we’d perked up and so, being gluttons for punishment, we decided to take the longer return back to the van. It poured again and Rach managed to slip over in the mud. It was however worth the pain for the views on the way down, and trust us the picture doesn’t bring out the blue of the lake. It was really truly amazing.

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Lake Tekapo is definitely worth the detour. Trust us.
  • If you plan on walking in New Zealand take waterproofs, chances are you’ll need them at some point.

Posted by rexontheroad 18:35 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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