Kingston-New Zealand

Contrary to the name, Kingston is the minor spouse of Queenstown.  It is a tiny town on the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, about forty seven kilometers from Queenstown.  It has none of the recognition of its Queen nor anything to do besides a tourist train.

The Kingston Flyer, as the train is known, is all the town is associated with.  It is a tourist trap that doesn’t really go anywhere.  My tour bus stopped here on its way to Milford Sound for what reason I could not deduce beyond the owner of the Kingston Flyer paying them to.   Kingston Flyer 1.JPG

Having a coffee, looking out over the clear blue lake, and watching the steam train slowly pull out of the fake station was how I spent our hour or two here.  Afterwards we continued our journey without me having walked more than fifty meters from where I stepped off the bus.  Kingston Flyer 4.JPG

Kingston would be great for a nice quiet picnic but it offers very little to tourists, unless you are a fan of trains.  Stick with Queenstown on the North of the lake and make Kingston a rest stop on your drive south and all will be well.

Crossing Cook Strait

When traveling between the North and South Islands of New Zealand I enjoy swimming the Cook Strait, but I understand this is not possible for everyone.  For those who prefer to stay dry and travel at a higher rate of speed there is good news.  A ferry cleverly called the Interislander makes the round trip journey three times a day.  NZ '05 - 132.JPG

Our journey begins in New Zealand’s capital, which despite public opinion is not Auckland in the North of the North island, but Wellington in the South of the North island.  This could get confusing so have maps at the ready for reference. Those familiar with ferry rides anywhere in the world will meet with no surprises on the Interislander.  For those who are ferrying for the first time we shall begin at the gate.  Here you will pay for whatever you are bringing on board, be it just yourself, or with a bicycle, a car full of people, or even a truck.  They accept everything for a price.  A person will run you about $60 and a car $210 for a one way journey.  These prices may stagger you a bit, or maybe that is sea sickness setting in.  Once you have paid you sit in a giant parking lot queue until boarding time.  Then you will drive your vehicle or walk on board, depending on your circumstances.  Once parked you just leave your car and walk inside.  L1030380.JPG

Now this is no small fry ferry.  This is more like a cruise ship.  There is a cafe, cinema, kids play area and more.  But being only a three hour journey I skip all this and go out on the deck to enjoy the fabulous water and tree covered islands along the way.  Bring a sweater with you as it will be cool on the sea even on a hot day.  Watch the skyline of Wellington fade in the distance, enjoy the open ocean, then be stunned by the water color, windsurfers, and beautiful hills as you ride the final channel to your destination, Picton. NZ '05 - 152.JPG

Picton is a tiny town on the North of the South Island and a major transport hub.  Once you dock you will probably leave straight away.  I have no recommendations for Picton as this is exactly what I have always done.  As you drive away you will think back that you just got to travel between the islands in comfort and sightsee at the same time.  You will finish this thought knowing that the price you paid is more than fair.  NZ '05 - 174.JPG


Glacier Kayaking

Thanks to Hollywood I imagined glaciers as massive white and glass blue sheets of ice glimmering under a crystal clear sky.  Sadly what I experienced was vastly different and disappointing.

For six months in 2007 I worked as a chef in Mt.Cook(Aoraki), New Zealand.  One fine morning the head chef asked me if I would like to go kayaking on a glacier.  Of course I said yes as I am willing to try anything.  In the back of my mind though the wheels were slowly turning trying to figure out how we would kayak on a sheet of ice.

We put two kayaks on top of her car and starting our off road drive.  I scanned the mountains in the horizon trying to pick which of the beautiful white mountains held our glaciers.  “Here we are”, she called after hardly any time had passed. We were pulling up to the edge of what was pretty much a filthy puddle.  This, she explained to me, was a melting glacier.  My heart sank.  The beauty bubble I had built up in my mind popped.  Here was a brown lake with filthy dirt covered pieces of ice scattered along a barren rocky shore.  I could see where the glacier had been and the giant ravine it once owned but now it was just a sad shadow of its former self.L1030558.JPG

Well, no turning back now.  So we got our kayaks and carried them to the water.  Here I got a short and sweet safety briefing.  “”It is dangerous so stay right next to me”.  Seemed simple enough so we got in a paddled away.  There wasn’t too much to look at as the view was exactly the same as from shore but I did get to have some fun.  I saw some bubbles and was chasing them down when I heard a yell telling me to get away from them.  I obliged her without so much as a peep and as I got away a huge piece of ice came bursting through the water right where I had been.  It was fabulous.  I do not understand why “avoid bubbles” couldn’t be part of the safety briefing but I suppose we all go for the dramatic in everything we do.  L1030555.JPG

Deducing the dangerous secrets of a glacier lake and surviving I now got quite bored, so my host took me to the mouth of the glacier melt.  The little stream of melting ice coming out of the glacier was the color water I had been expecting.  It was a small but beautiful oasis in this jungle of sadness.  L1030561.JPG

Shaking my fist at global warming deniers I climb into the kayak with my head a storm of emotion.  How is it possible to turn a beautiful glacier into this mud pond and not give a toss about it?  It has been a decade since.  Does that pond exist now or is glacier kayaking in Aoraki only in my memories?


Arthur’s Pass – New Zealand – Day 4

Our fourth day in the national park saw us safely in the village hostel.  Outside was a beautiful crystal clear day.  Far from the storms that we had anticipated.  Being our last day in the park we decided to do a day hike before hopping on the shuttle van back to Christchurch.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We decided to take a one way path to the summit of the mountain overlooking the village.  A hike of a few hours.  After the events of the past three days it felt as if nothing happened in those few hours.  It was a simple walk up a well defined and clear path.  Perhaps I am a drama queen(or king to be more correct, or perhaps less correct.  I’m not sure), but I preferred our rough and scary hike. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summit was beautiful.  We had uninterrupted views in all directions of the fabulous country.  Barren, snow capped mountains to one side and tree covered hills to the other.  Relax was the word of the day and after a few minutes of sitting enjoying the view in that crisp, clean air we were both snoozing under the New Zealand sun.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The route down took us past a gushing waterfall.  Just two days before all the waterfalls we had seen had been ominous signs but today it was a gorgeous sight, safe in the knowledge that we were only hours from the village and mankind.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The end of our journey brings me to my favorite part.  The Kea bird.  This little bugger is one of my favorite animals.  Known as the smartest bird in the world it is capable of solving puzzles.  Trash cans in the park are specially designed as the birds can open most types.  After our long hike Nick and I enjoyed an ice cream while waiting for the shuttle.  As I’m sitting on a curb minding my own business a Kea walks up and looks me up and down sorting me out.  After coming to the conclusion that he isn’t going to get my ice cream he hops up onto my pack and in a flash has unzipped it and taken out a pack of crackers.  Keep in mind that my pack has five zippers and he chose the correct one to get to my crackers.  Impressed by this I let him have one cracker and then take the rest back.  I climb into the van with this last memory as the icing of a wonderful trip.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arthur’s Pass – New Zealand – Day 3

Day three we awoke to a frightening but also extremely relaxing sound.  Rain pounding on our cabin.  Hoping that perhaps the cabin was amplifying the sound we opened the door and were greeted with a sheet of water.  Distressed we fell back to breakfast.  After eating we took stock of our supplies and realized we had planned poorly. Only the start of our third day and were were running out of food.  Making a note to eat less we dressed in our best waterproof gear and leaving our gear behind, set off to recon the river.
The river was a magnificent torrent of crystal clear water.  Gone was the riverbed and in its place was a swollen ocean.  Considering the trail from here to the town was fully that riverbed we now considered ourselves in quite a bit of trouble.  We had no map of consequence to find another way out and were running out of food.  And where were we supposed to get water to drink?
I don’t think we are going to make it buddy.  The storm is closing in and we are almost out of food.  Should we use the radio to call for rescue? The cabin was equipped with a radio which we used to call out.  Immediately a Kiwi responded.  Our first question was to ask about the weather.  Perhaps something we should have done three days earlier but better late than never.  The answer was not encouraging.  The area was supposed to have rain for the next few days.  I have always had a positive attitude and it served me well here.  I was positive we were going to die so I went to a corner and started writing goodbye letters.  Nick asked the Kiwi about possibility of rescue.  He asked where we were and our supplies.  When we told him we were only a days hike out he laughed and hung up on us.  So it was up to us alone to get out of this extremely dangerous situation.
By mid-morning the rain had stopped and we started our trek back to where we started from.  Unable to walk the creek bed we followed along the edge and came to a trail.  So far so good.  We had an easy time of it for hours until the trail wanted to cross the river.  We decided to try and ford it.  Taking Nick on my back as I was better at holding my breath we walked into the freezing water.  I made a good effort of it but the rocks were too slippery and the current too fast.  Unable to cross the river and follow the trail we bushwhacked along the edge.  This was slow goings but turned into a downright struggle once we reached a hillside.  Unable to cross the river or go around the hill we really were stuck between a rock and a wet place.
Finding a game trail along the edge of the hill we began side stepping along, gaining in elevation until we were fifty meters or more above that troublesome river.  Never have I been more scared in my life.  With barely enough space for myself, let alone my pack, I slowly shuffled along that edge thinking how terrible the situation was, and then I came to a gap in the path, and decided that everything had been a piece of cake up to that point.  We would have to jump the gap.  Looking down the gap fifty meters to the bottom it was clear that there would be no mulligans.  One after another we jumped and after both surviving were scurried along the rest of the path as quickly as we could.
After clearing the hillside a meadow opened in front of us.  I have no memory of a meadow on our hike in but there it was.  Never have I been so happy.  We had a nice open field with a trail in front of us.  No more rivers and no more cliffs.  A nice relaxing trek this day had turned into and after a few hours we were back in town taking a nice hot and relaxing shower, disappointed in ourselves for thinking we were going to die just hours earlier and hoping never to run across the Kiwi on the other side of the radio.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arthur’s Pass – New Zealand – Day 2

Nick and I woke ready for another day of hiking in the beautiful New Zealand mountains.  After a large breakfast by the campfire we dressed in our dry clothes, packed up, and began trekking along the riverbed once more.  An hour into our walk the trail crossed the large riverbed by a sort of individual cable car which was unexpected and cool.  Strung quite a distance above the riverbed it had space for one person and a pack.  It was operated by a hand crank.  I was first to cross and was a little nervous about trusting such a contraption so high up and in the middle of a forest.   When I weighed my options between fording the steam and the cable car I decided to stay dry.  It was a poor decision as it started raining as soon as I climbed in.  So I put on my parka and started cranking.  Being much further than it looked I reached the other side with a sore and tired arm.  With my other arm I cranked the carriage back to Nick so he could make the crossing.  Safely together we took a little rest and then cracked on.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weather had changed drastically in the time it had taken us to fly over the riverbed.  We were now looking and low level clouds and a mild rain.  Being such expert outdoors men we completely ignored the weather and proceeded straight into a ravine.  Looking back we probably should have been washed away and drowned judging by the steepness, lack of vegetation, and rock bed of that ravine.  It was just asking for a flash flood, but we carried on without a care in the world, even stopping to take pictures of the water starting to come over the side of the cliffs making pretty waterfalls.    Then we lost the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How we lost the trail will never cease to amaze me.  It had been marked extremely well right up to the point that it stopped.  Whatever the cause(most likely Kiwi Gremlins), we could not find where to go.  I know, get to high ground and look around.  This crossed our mind for some reason.  Perhaps we had seen too many movies where the high ground is always the best ground.  So we brilliantly decided to climb up a steep rocky cliff face.  Though nobody was killed we did take turns starting rock slides onto each other.  After quite some time and sore from climbing up a steep cliff with loose rocks for traction we hit the summit and saw….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wilderness.  I cannot say we were surprised and am not sure what we were hoping to see.  Maybe a sign saying “Trail this way”.  Now is a good time to mention that we had brought a map and compass, but as we discovered at this junction we were off the map.  It had only covered the beginning of our hike.  So we were utterly lost.  There was nothing for it but to retrace our steps back our previous camp.  Here I learned that going down a rocky cliff face is a lot more difficult than going up one.  At one point I had to take off my pack to climb down and there was no choice but to throw my pack down in front of me.  As can be easily guessed it did not drop nicer but rolled down the slope.  I must give credit to the construction of that pack as it only had slight tears after its journey bouncing and sliding down that rocky face.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After our harrowing journey down we had an easy hike back to the campsite.  As we crossed the cable car for the second time that day we noticed that the river was about five times bigger now and flowing fast.  Neurons in both our brains started clicking and the thought that we might be in trouble now crossed our minds.  We had not exactly prepared or packed well for this hike and bad weather was not going to make it any easier.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We arrived at the campsite just as the light was starting to fade.  Being soaked to the bone and exhausted from our climbing expedition we decided to stay in the cabin.  These are cabins built by the park service for hikers and can be used for a fee.  It is on the honor system and we put in extra cash due to our happiness of being warm and dry.  These cabins have beds, tables, a fireplace/stove, and a nice welcoming feel.  It made for a wonderful night.  We ate a huge meal, dried everything we had, and slept soundly and long that night.  A good thing as we would need strength and concentration for the next day.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arthur’s Pass – New Zealand – Day 1

I don’t think we are going to make it buddy.  The storm is closing in and we are almost out of food.  Should we use the radio to call for rescue?…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arthur’s Pass is a national park on the South island of New Zealand, about the center of the island mid-way between the West and East coasts.  It is a well known hiking mecca and where I got my feet wet in overnight hiking.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was our first time in New Zealand and we had finished covering the North Island and were waking up from two nights in Christchurch.  Nick had planned out a multi day hike in Arthur’s Pass.  We hopped on a tour bus with a few other hikers(well, more of a tour van pulling a luggage trailer), and were off for the national park.  The hour ride up was beautiful.  Full of green sheep, snow capped hills, and fluffy mountains.  I may have gotten that wrong as my memory is a bit hazy.  But anyway, the drive to the park was fantastic.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The van dropped us off on the main road.  We checked our packs, took a few pictures to chronicle our adventure. and at 10.34 exactly set off on our trek.  The first part of the trail was not promising.  It was actually not a trail but a massive river bed full of rocks and swift running water.  No worries.  We came here to hike and hike we did, hopping over little streams and twisting our ankles every few steps, until Nick decided he had gotten too warm and took a swim into one of the streams.  After taking a break to let him and our map dry we were off again, spending the rest of the day navigating that troublesome river bed.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As evening was starting to set in we caught our first glimpse of what nature had in store for us.  Some nice fluffy white clouds were covering the ground and mountains in the distance in front of us. White fluffy clouds.  What harm could they do?  Without a second thought about it, or really even a first thought, we set up camp and started a fire to warm up and dry off our boots and socks. Though I hadn’t gone swimming I had crossed enough streams for water to soak through my waterproof boots and non-waterproof socks.   The drying and warming completed we climbed into our sleeping bags and I immediately fell into one off the best sleeps I have ever had.  All my best nights rest have been under the stars.  I wonder why that is.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA