Around the World a Bit at a Time

Travels: Past, Present and Future

Archive for October, 2005

Not Quite Dancing on Ice

Posted by Leanne on October 31, 2005

When staying in Franz Josef, there’s no better way to spend a day than hiking up a glacier.

After getting kitted out with ice talons and waterproofs, we started the day with a brief introduction, informing us of what glaciers are made of (ice), before embarking on an exhausting climb up a huge staircase carved in the side of the glacier.

Throughout the course of the day, we slipped through tight crevasses, commando crawled through frozen tunnels and traversed great walls of ice.

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Apart from the climb of death at the beginning of the day, the trickiest part was coming back down. In spite of feeling quite important that there was a man with a pick cutting steps in the glacier for us as we descended, there was a nagging feeling that, if I fell, I might die.

Obviously I didn’t die and I lived to see the great Fox(es) Glacier (mint) on our way to Wanaka the next day…

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The Bushman’s Centre

Posted by Leanne on October 30, 2005

On the way to Franz Joseph, we stopped at the Bushman’s Centre– a strange place with a strange smell and a unique roadkill menu.

Pete, the old dude who runs the place is an old man with old fashioned views. As he welcomed us to the centre, he pointed out the roadkill menu (“you kill ’em, we grill ’em”), emphasising the infamous possum pie as a vegetarian option- because possums are pests and they deserve to die, besides which they’re vegetarian too. His words, not mine.

As part of the Bushman’s centre experience, we watched a short film, showing some crazy Kiwis of the past risking their lives to jump out of helicopters on to the bucking deer below, the purpose of which was to capture live deer for farming.

Just to round off the visit, Pete made one of our crew feed a live boar some toast. All in a day’s work for the Kiwi Experience.

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The Poo Pub

Posted by Leanne on October 29, 2005

Today I learned why the West Coast of the south island is sometimes referred to as the ‘Wet Coast’. I’ve never seen so much rain in all my life* as I did when we ran from shop to shop in Greymouth in search of a prize winning fancy dress costume.

The reason I needed a fancy dress costume is that we were going to the ‘poo’ pub in Mahinapua which is basically in the middle of nowhere and, probably because there’s nothing else to do there, they have a fancy dress party every night for every single Kiwi Experience bus that comes along.

The pub was definitely something which has to be seen to believed. Every inch of every wall is covered with polaroid photos of fancy dress parties (one per party) from the past ten years. When he ran out of space on the walls, the owner continued the photo tradition in some functional, if a bit boring photo albums.

The entire ceiling was decorated with hats…

After an evening of drinking games where I played ‘Kings’ for the very first time (the second and only other time was exactly one year later on a boat in Australia), they announced the winners of the fancy dress competition.

My Greenfly outfit gained a respectable 2nd** and a free video/photo package to go with a bungy jump, should I choose to do one… no backing out now! 

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*And I’m from England
**The werewolf on the right of the picture won

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Bazil’s

Posted by Leanne on October 28, 2005

The first stop of the day was at Kaiteriteri National Park for a spot of sea kayaking.

After a gentle paddle round to Split Apple Rock, we basked in the sunshine on a beach nearby before paddling back past the dolphins and rafting the group’s kayaks together so that we could sail back into the beach. 

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We arrived in Westport late afternoon where we discovered that there was absolutely nothing to do.*

It didn’t matter though: we were staying at Bazil’s, officially the best hostel EVER. It has a huge country cottage style kitchen with herbs (fresh and dry) for you to use in cooking (a real treat to pasta and tomato sauce weary travellers), a big TV room, videos, games, pleasant dorm rooms where not all the beds are bunk beds and matresses that you can’t feel the bed frame through. Heaven!

Spent the night drinking wine and falling asleep to ‘Lord of the Rings’. I forget which one, but there’s a bit in it where the dwarf gets a bit tired and grumpy after climbing up a hill. Dread to think what he would have been like on the Tongariro Crossing

*I think there are probably a few walks around there but if you’re only staying overnight, there’s nowt.

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Strictly No Bees

Posted by Leanne on October 27, 2005

It was a nice day for a ferry ride, so that’s exactly what I did. Not because it was a nice day, but because it was time to make the journey to the South Island. Looking back, I seemed to have got through far too much to cram into two short weeks. The journey to the South Island was, to me a marker that it was all going to end and the glorious long days I had at the very beginning were rapidly growing shorter.

When travelling between the North and South Island, they weren’t all that worried about food smugglers, but they’re pretty strict about bringing bees on board (as in you’re not allowed to, not that you have to). 

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Ironically enough, when we stopped in Havelock, the first pie stop on the South island, we were chased into one of the local shops by a huge swarm of bees. It was terrifying- and I’ve jumped out of planes before.

The destination for the day was Nelson: not only the sunniest place in New Zealand, but also the centre of New Zealand. The journey there gave an excellent taster of why many travellers prefer the South island- the landscape is simply stunning. No matter where you are in New Zealand, there always seems to be a backdrop of beautiful mountains, but on the South island, the scenery is so much more dramatic. There are more mountains; they are bigger; they are rockier; they are quite simply breathtaking.

I didn’t spend much time in Nelson. My memory of it was from the evening in the hostel where we took part in the world’s fastest wine tasting. And when I say wine tasting, I don’t mean sniff it, swill it and then spit or swallow, I mean gulp it down in one go without letting it touch the sides because the lady in charge was already trying to pour the next wine in the glass. She could have at least let us pretend that we were sophisticated and knew how to taste wine properly!

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Wellington

Posted by Leanne on October 26, 2005

I took two pictures in Wellington, this is one of them:

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Blurry isn’t it?

I spent part of the day visiting the world class Te Papa museum which was big and new and quite good, but I found that Cam’s commentary on the Kiwi bus had already taught me a lot of the stuff that was there about New Zealand and Maori culture, and there wasn’t much stuff to play with, so I didn’t stay long.

Opposite the hostel was a pub wiich boasted that they were ‘The only Welsh Pub in the Southern Hemisphere’. I didn’t go in but I couldn’t help wondering what a Welsh pub was like. As far as I know the only ones in the Northern hemisphere are in Wales…

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Rangitikei Rafting

Posted by Leanne on October 25, 2005

Taking a swim in the Rangitikei River takes your breath away, because it’s so cold. The current is strong enough to make swimming difficult, but the water is so clean and pure that you can drink it.

The reason I was swimming in a dangerous river at all, was that the white water rafting instructor made me… it’s standard practice to chuck everybody in the river, just so they can experience what it’s like to float over a ‘safe’ rapid before you get to the grade 5 monsters where you might not have a choice. 

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As we drifted along between rapids, we were surrounded by waterfalls, which were so beautiful, yet when you stand under them, they hammer on your head and shoulders with such power, that you feel like you’ll never be able to get out.

On this day, white water rafting became my all time favourite acivity, starting from the moment Sam, the instructor purposely capsised the raft by shouting at everyone to dive right. The initial indignation at his dirty trick soon wore off and gave way to terror when we realised the reason behind it: he was trying to get us accustomed to the water temperature again so that it wouldn’t be such a shock to the system when we plunged into the water from the top of a 4m high rock.

The minute I saw what they intended us to do, I was terrified. I knew that I could jump off it, but at the same time, I really didn’t want to. I watched eight people take the plunge before I stepped up. Then I stepped away from the edge again to let someone else go.

The second time I stepped up, I edged my way out as far as possible, closed my eyes and just jumped- because people were watching and because I wanted to.

As I launched myself into the air, I felt my stomach dip in the way it would on a steep drop on a roller coaster and then, suddenly I was in the cold, cold water again, gasping for breath and being carried away by the current: it was the most amazing feeling to realise that I was still alive(!)- the same feeling I imagine everyone else had when they touched the ground after their skydive. Unlike the skydiving, I had been really scared of jumping, and so by doing it, I experienced a proper adrenaline rush and sense of achievement. 

Still had no idea how I was going to manage to fling myself of a bridge when it came to bungy jumping later on in the trip though…

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There Were 10 in a Bed

Posted by Leanne on October 24, 2005

I was refreshed from oodles of sleep after being treated to a ‘late’ 9.30am departure on the Green Bus of Fun which started out the day by heading to the Tongariro National Park (again).

Our first walk was thankfully short, to Taranaki falls where we sat and had lunch under the baking sun, with the fresh spray of waterfall to cool us down. 

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Taranaki falls is not far from the unfortunately named Whakapapa (the ‘Wh’ is pronounced ‘F’). I suppose it doesn’t help that ‘whakapapa’ means ‘in the family’ either…!

The rest of the day was uneventful, though I did see a big carrot as we drove through Ohakune- the carrot capital of the world, and got to sleep in the same bed as 9 of my bus-mates: 

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The Tongariro Crossing

Posted by Leanne on October 23, 2005

Warning: This post is long. Almost as long as the Tongariro Crossing. (Written in April 2007)

When I was in New Zealand, it was a running joke that I was a bit behind with my travel journal- two weeks after one particularly challenging day, I was still sitting down and failing to write about the Tongariro Crossing because, I joked, it was just too traumatic to recount so close to the event.

The evening I got back from this delightful tramp across the Kiwi countryside, I kept getting concerned looks and being asked if I was OK because I looked like I’d been crying non stop for about a week.

“Are you alright?” they would ask.
“Yes- I did the Tongariro crossing today.” I explained.
“Ah,” they replied as if that made everything perfectly clear.

I didn’t get chance to explain that my eyes had been streaming all day as I hiked over some mountains, dodged around some precarious cliffs in the snow and scaled an active volcano in the vicinity of the infamous Mount Ruapehu, aka Mount Doom.

The Tongariro Crossing, is a trek of just under 10,000 smoots across Tongariro National Park and is meant to be one of the worlds best one day walks. I assume that’s why I let myself be talked into getting up at 6am the day after a big night out to be driven to a deserted pathway and left to brave the elements. Well, it was as deserted as a pathway can be when there are three coachfuls of crazy people being dropped off to go on a long walk at 7am.

Due to some snowfall, it was touch and go as to whether we would be allowed to do the summer trek (deserted at a car park and met at the other side of some mountains) or the winter version with crampons and a guide. They decided that we’d probably be okay, as long as we avoided attempting the detour to summit Mount Ngaurahoe.

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During the initial walk from Mangatepopo car park to Soda Springs, I started to wake up a bit and even begin to feel like it could be a good day out after all. It was a nice flat stroll along a boardwalk (to stop our feet from getting wet). I think they do this to lure you into a false sense of security, because climbing to the top of the South Crater from Soda Springs was certainly no picnic.

As I stumbled up the rocks, it occurred to me that I wasn’t walking anymore- this was more like mountain climbing. It was made worse by the fact that I was under the impression that the next climb would be worse and I began to doubt my ability to last the day. After much stopping and starting, I finally reached the top of the snow clad mountain where I could stand back and enjoy the view.

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I checked out my progress on the map and was delighted to discover that the dreaded ‘Devil’s Staircase’ wasn’t at the next peak as I’d originally thought and that I’d already done the hard bit. I had climbed the Devil’s Staircase without realising it!

The next part of the walk was across a flat ‘football field’ of snow before another climb to the top of the Red Crater for lunch where we sat on the warm moist ground and wondered whether we should be worried that the warm ground was warm because it was an active volcano…

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…we didn’t wonder for long though- too busy taking in the view. On a very clear day, and with very good eyesight (neither of which were available to me that day), you can apparently see out to the East and the West coast of New Zealand.

After a treacherous slide down the side of the Red Crater over loose scoria we came to the celebrity of the Tongariro Crossing: The Emerald Lakes. They were smelly, but beautiful.

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If you’re tired of reading this now, imagine how my poor little legs felt- and there was still more to come…

The next part of the journey was to the Blue Lake. Blue, and highly acidic because, it seems, all beautiful things in new Zealand are inherently evil (like the Tongariro Crossing).

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Following that, there was, what is described on the Tongariro Crossing website as a ‘short easy climb to the North Crater’. This was in fact a dangerous slippy traverse across a narrow path which fell away to the right in what can only be described as a very scary drop. You could see holes in the snow where people had tried helplessly to grab onto something… anything, leaving nothing but fingerprints in the snow to line the pathway.

So we got out of that alive and made it out to the other side, through to the sulphur-rich Hot Springs and then quite a lot of forest before finally, seven hours later, reaching the car park at the other end.

And that was it really. Finally, after one and a half years I have finished writing about the Tongariro Crossing. It feels good.

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Diving in The Sky

Posted by Leanne on October 22, 2005

One of the things about being in New Zealand is that it makes you realise what an immensely powerful thing this world is.

Living in England on relatively stable land means that we often take it for granted. But there, the landscape seems to change every 10 minute drive, from snow capped mountains, to beaches which puddle up hot water when you dig a hole, to rainforest, to volcanoes, to steaming, stinking bits of land. The things that look pretty in pictures are very pretty but often absolutely reek of sulphur, just to serve as a reminder that we are nothing and we are just living here with the Earth’s kind permission. The fact that the land is so versatile and unpredictable is probably the reason that Kiwis respect their environment a lot more than we do.

After a several walks where we overloaded our senses with beauty at Marakopa Falls, the powerful, roaring Huka Falls and the surreal ‘Craters of the Moon’, we finally arrived in Taupo. 

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Taupo is famous for two things: the immense Lake Taupo- big enough to accommodate Singapore, with room to sail a boat around the edge, and the cheapest skydiving in the world. Naturally we headed straight to the airfield to jump out of a plane.

It wasn’t until about half way into the journey to the airfield that I noticed that Cam was playing songs with lyrics like “Nice to Know you- Goodbye” on the bus there. I found this really amusing but I don’t think it helped the people who were actually scared of doing the big jump!

It was my first sky dive, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting the tap on my shoulder to signal that I should spread my ‘wings’ so soon after tumbling from the plane and in the end, Damian my tandem master yanked them out for me.

So, what did I think? It was noisy, fast and my hands were freezing, but suddenly, from the roar of the air rushing past my ears at 120mph the parachute opened and there was a feeling of absolute stillness and calm as I drifted to the ground, while the sun set in the sky around me.

When we landed everyone was on a high, but for some reason, I couldn’t see what the big deal was. Still, I look like I’m really enjoying it on the photos: 

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