Sunday, January 18, 2009

and then the fat lady sang

franz josef village feels like a lifetime ago.  the day we last wrote, we had beer for dinner - at least a schnitzel (7 beers), as nico says.  we didn't plan it that way, but it was pissing down and we sat on a swing on the verandah at our chateau franz (not quite as glam as it sounds) and, well, we just didn't move for hours - except to go to the fridge and back.  and when that was empty, we went to the pub.  we did think about dinner.  and we ate some of the free soup, but sitting on that swing, watching the rain pour down and drinking our tui was pretty damn satisfying.

it did, however, make for a difficult morning the next day - and we had a glacier to climb!  well, maybe climb is a bit misleading, we didn't go to the top (our guide had never been to the top either), but we did spend near on six hours hiking WITH CRAMPONS (the very idea of which scared me), and even ice axes!  well, our ice axes were really only for show, they helped with steep ice climbing, but they weren't to be used for axe-like purposes - that sort of activity was restricted to the guides...and their nice legs...oh, sorry, daydreaming...

but seriously, the guides were excellent.  they really knew what they were doing and ours was particularly no nonsense and gave us good safety info.  unfortunately, due to the seriously high volume of rain there had been recently, our guides spent a great deal of time carving out new tracks for us which was cool, but not scintillating to watch - oh, except for his legs! 

and there were some parts of the glacier that we couldn't go to, because they were just too unstable.  i'm sure you all heard about the guys from melbourne who met their unfortunate demise at the behest of an unstable glacier.  it was pretty scary.  before i even knew about that it was scary, because there are these things they call 'moulins' (the french word for windmill), which look like a little puddle on the glacier, but they're actually a very deep hole, sometimes 100m deep which, should you step into, would deliver you to an icy death.

clearly, we survived.  but it was a long day.  the next day we decided to hitch to queenstown coz we had a booking to do the routeburn track, which we'd made back in october - lucky, coz some, like our israeli mates, couldn't get on that track coz it was booked out.  we didn't get moving particularly early, coz we aren't much good at that.  and we kinda didn't realise just how far it was.  in fact, the advice we'd been given at doc (dept of conservation), was that it would only take five and a half hours.  it took a while to get our first ride, then a fellow tramper picked us up and took us just as far as the fox glacier.  nice kiwi bloke, told us we'd be 'blown away' by the routeburn.

took a while to get our next ride, but it was a sunday and i guess it was a particuarly touristy route.  the main highway down the west coast, yes, but not a whole lotta kiwi traffic going by.  and it was mostly kiwis who gave us rides.  so, just to prove me wrong, our next hitch was with a fairly strange bloke from york.  well, via manitoba, canada.  yes, he had a singsong lilt we could barely make sense of ("next stop poob", he said to nico at some point, to receive only a blank stare in reply) , and he was a grain farmer who was driving around the entire country without a clue about it.  but, to be fair, he drove us abbout 400km and we woulda been stuffed without him.

so, when around 7pm he finally threw us out in queenstown, we bought ourselves some zubrowka to celebrate our success!  and the next day, after a helluva breakfast at bob's weigh (HIGHLY recommended), we started the routeburn track...aka the routeburn river!  so, the truth is it's a beautiful track which takes you pretty much from glenorchy (not far from queenstown) and mt aspiring national park to milford (of the world famous milford sound) and fiordland national park.  it's brilliant, because it is something like 350km by road, but only 32km on foot!

but, what they don't tell you is that the route burn is a river.  and you don't walk it, you SWIM it.  our first day was ok.  not brilliant weather, but clear and warm enough and a nice cruisy 2hr~ish walk.  we took a lot of photos of water, not realising just how wet we would become in the coming days.  the next morning we had a lovely sleep in, and postponed the start of our 13.6km tramp, hoping the rain might ease off.  it didn't.  if anything, it got worse.  it was a little disappointing, because most of that day was spent above the treeline and the views, had we seen them, would have been astonishing.  honestly, try these on for size...

but we contented ourselves, with getting completely saturated, declaring ourselves mountain heroes yet again, and having a waterfight, just to make sure there weren't any dry patches.  and dry patches there were not.  which at the end of the day i discovered actually included everything INSIDE my backpack as well.  i think it was the first hint of a bad mood in our entire trip.  when i nearly cried because i did not even have a dry pair of knickers, not a stitch to wear AND my sleeping bag was wet too.

to his credit, ponyboy took control of the situation.  found somehow in his pack that contained SO FEW clothes (especially compared to mine that even had a frock for new year's), an entire clean dry change for both of us and enough sleeping bag warmth to start me snoring in about three mins flat.  well done, ponyboy!  when i woke up he cooked us dinner, using such creative implements as a tennis racquet, and all was well again. 

we did have to put our wet clothes on again the next morning, walk for another four hours or so in the rain, camp in a swamp, sleep through a thunderstorm with lightning in both directions the next day, but somehow none of that was as bad as that one moment without dry knickers.  unfortunately again, we could see only very brief glimpses of the view on the final day.  but we've since heard that this is very common - and seen pictures of trampers on the milford track at the same time as us, but they were waist deep in water at points!  and i thought i was wet!!

when we finished the tramp and got to milford, we were told it had been raining like that for two weeks straight, since the 30th of december.  and even for somewhere that apparently gets 7m of rain a year, that was frustrating for the locals.  a little frustrating for us too, when we went on a cruise on milford sound and again could see very little. 

luckily, and we were very lucky for a lot of our trip, it cleared up in the afternoon and the company operating the cruise let us go again in the afternoon!  so, when we finally jumped on our bus, we were pretty cheerful, although nico was feeling the effects of so much wet, cold weather and had a sore throat.  nothing a snooze on the bus, followed by a movie and ice cream in te anau couldn't fix tho!  yes, we saw quantam of solace!  and what a luxury a cinema was.

up again early the next morning, we were on a bus to invergumboot (also known as invercargill), and onto bluff and stewart island!  foolishly, we hadn't booked the ferry, so we spent an unplanned entire day in bluff.  but it was nice enough.  we took a hike for a few hours, and rewarded ourselves with VB and fish n chips, or "feesh n cheeps" as i apparently pronounce it!!  then, finally around 5pm, we were on the ferry and on our way to that funny little outpost stewart island, which is almost entirely national park and where nico tried to teach me to say "nichts", oh so many times, to the point where a bloke in the pub thought we were having an argument.  i mean to say!

the rakiura track (rakiura is the maori name for stewart island) is a three day tramp, which takes you on a loop from oban (the township on the island), inland and back along the coast.  it, the track and the tramps on the island in general, are renowned the mud and muddy it is!  it is also, however, fairly easy to avoid the mud.  if you're not me and if you don't walk...ohhh...straight through the middle of a knee-deep mud puddle.  oh, did nico laugh whilst i clung to a tree and wailed.  to be fair, it was first thing in the morning.  even if our mornings did start around 11, it was early, in my book.  anyway, just wait till you see the photos.

so, it was a great walk and despite the number of stairs, we bloody loved it.  i got a bit melancholy coz it was our last tramp and our holiday was coming to an end.  but i think i didn't sook too much.  so, all that's left is timaru, which we visited solely for the purpose of going to the tui brewery, and christchurch, which we visited purely for the purpose of leaving.  we got as much as we could out of both places, and stayed up all night in christchurch ~ the first place we'd found in new zealand that really actually resembled a city, a-mazing!~

and now i'm home.  and sadly, back to work tomorrow.  so, this is goodnight.  do vstrechi Xx

Friday, January 02, 2009


dear diary,
porangahau's famous hill, taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is drawing increasing numbers of visitors to the area (but not us, coz we had tramping to do!  we just liked the name, so we thought we'd share it with you). it means 'the hilltop where tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau (flute) to his beloved'. It's on the north island, but we're not...anymore.
so, where are we now?  in a bloody thunderstorm!  which has been going for what feels like days, but actually only started coday, when we were leaving arthur's pass with some new israeli friends, who nico has decided we should abandon already.  so we did.  but they were good for a ride!  if you know what i really, they had two cars between three people...they needed us - to pay their petrol!  so we let them make us coffee and drive us to franz josef village, where all we have done so far is eat, drink beer and have a spa!!!  bloody great!!!  we were going to do a short walk to the glacier, but we decided a full day ice hike tomorrow would be more in keeping with the ethos of 'trip danger'.  so today became a bludge day.  which is only fair considering we climbed a mountain on new year's day with hangovers!
yes, that was at arthur's pass.  an excellent detour from the main road down the west coast.  it's about a hundred Ks from greymouth of the south island, along a very windy and steep road.  we were trying to hitch from greymouth and it was absolutely PISSING down, and no bastard would stop and pick us up.  i was about to crack the sads if we waited in the rain much longer, but luckily, after only half an hour and when our jeans were still hanging on to our (skinny!  yes!  skinny!!) legs, a local dude took pity on us and stopped.  he wasn't going anywhere.  in fact, he lived right around the corner from where we were hitching.  but we were VERY wet.  and he was a nice, simple soul who decided a charitable act at 5pm on new year's eve was the right thing to do.  honestly, we couldn't believe the guy would take us 100km, completely out of his direction.  we sort of kind of tried to talk him out of it, but not very hard.  we just decided to give him plenty of drinking money instead.  WHICH he didn't want to take!  but we were insistent and i think he was happy.
we got out of his car outside arthur's, a bar/restaurant with accommodation.  we headed straight for their (fake) open fireplace and a nice big goblet of red wine.  then we decided not to venture back out into the driving rain, and instead we spent an exorbitant amount of money on a HOTEL room, yes, you read it right, a hotel room!!!  and oh what a nice luxury that was for new year's.  and actually, not a stupid amount of money.  only three times more than a hostel...eeeeeeeeek!  we made ourselves feel better though, by drinking our six-pack of VB and cooking up a feast in our hotel room - ssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh - well, when i say we, of course i mean NICO cooked up a feast and i kinda watched and vaguely assisted.  oh yes, VB.  please tell adrian.  it's even cheaper than in oz.  only cost us $9.90 (nz dollars!!!) for a six-pack.  woooooooooooo hooooooooooooooo!!  oh yeah, mmmhmmmm mmmhmmmm!!  and then there was the goon!!  oh yeah, and the pub and the pints and the shots and the band and walking home in the rain and....actually....i don't remember the rest.  bloody good new year's.  and we got to sleep in till eleven too - niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.
and coz we were oh so fresh, we climbed a mountain (- It was Scott's track, Lou Lou!).  yup, and mum, if i haven't said this already, i'm telling you now, hitching is NOTHING compared to mountain climbing WITH a hangover.  it was only a five hour walk, but the winds were around 80ks and i honestly thought i would get blown off.  to the point that i was hanging on to nico and wishing i weighed about 120kg, just to hold myself down.  nico wasn't scared, of course, he did the chicken dance on the mountain top!!!  and yes, there's proof:

honestly though, the view from the top of avalanche peak was a-MAZ-ing!!!  and we left our hangovers at the top, hopefully they're still enjoying the view...but i think they would have got blown off too.  actually, it was the first time i was glad that meisie didn't come with us.  we would have had to hold her down.  oh yeah!  AND we saw our first glacier, up the top of avalanche peak, there was a glacier on the next mountain!!  it was just superb.
arthur's pass/avalanche peak was definitely the first cool thing we have done on the south island.  we'd left wellington on the 30th, got an early ferry in gorgeous weather across to picton, a bus through to richmond, actually through to Beverly Store and some damn fine ice cream.  and then it was hitching again for us.  with a friendly animation dude just back from LA, a bearded ex-melburnian in a beat up car (whose beard grew down to his belly button in just three years!), the nursing wife of a pig hunter and an awesome (and fucking huge) Maori truckie dude called Rima, who has had a burger named after him and loves his wife as much as....fried chicken.  no, i am deadly serious.  i think what he said after that was 'i wish it would rain chicken'.  what a dude.  but he dropped us in a fucking hole called springs junction, which was ridden with sand flied and NO DAMN GOOD for hitching out of.  took us near on an hour and a half.  grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
seeing as how we're going backwards, i'll tell you what we did before wellington.  wellington, btw, was a blink in the night.  we barely saw it.  we arrived on a bus around 9.30pm, after having spent three days canoeing on the whanganui river.  yeah!!  we started from ohakune (place to be careful, according to the bus driver with verbal diarrhoea who drove us from ohakune to whakahoro landing to start our journey) on the day after boxing day.  we weren't so very cheerful when we started coz we'd hiked a few K outta ohakune to stay at a nice free campground.  the hike itself wasn't so bad, except that we'd bought half a slab of beer just prior and had to carry the bastard.  but we made ourselves feel better by drinking it all when we got there!  oh yeah, and i was kinda nervous about the rapids on the whanganui river.  remember, i went canoeing not that long ago and managed to capsize the boat effortlessly.  didn't really wanna do that again.
but, master of the river, captain kuru, managed to guide us very safely through ALL the rapids, just by yelling at me lots - PADDLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!  it worked, surprisingly.  gee, who'd have thought paddling was all you needed to do!  oh yea, he (captain kuru) did get about oh....ten litres dumped on him each rapid.  ha, not me tho.  because i was in the back...yes, i'm clever sometimes.  anyway, weird trip, kinda, because the other canoeists and kayakers were carrying heaps of luxuries.  like eskies full of beer and snags.  and they were cooking up feasts.  and we were in tramping mode and trying to reduce our luggage so much that we ended up with bugger all, such as only one cup and only one fork.  kinda tricky when eating spaghetti.  or drinking coffee for that matter.  i'm pretty sure nico has learnt the word "share" now.  but purely for necessity. 
christmas we spent in whakapapa village (pron. "fuck a papa", and whilst being a useful expletive, actually means genealogy, or something like extended family - aunts, uncles and cuzzies - apparently).  well, half of it.  it was actually the day we finished the four-day tramp (41km) starred as mt doom in lord of the rings.  bitch of a climb.  but we did it!  along with a bunch of bloody yanks. it's an active volcano too, seriously, it was steaming at the top!  but i wasn't scared.  nope, not me.  scaredy cat?  don't know what you're talking about!  but seriously, there were SO many people up there i couldn't be scared.  plus, i was too busy trying to catch my breath.  nico didn't have the same problem, and certainly no fear, he RAN down the bloody thing.  took me a wee bit longer...
hard day's walk tho.  nine hours from start to finish and were we buggered?  oh yeah...just a bit.  we were certainly too buggered to bother talking to the five fucking thousand germans in the huts.  ok, so maybe there were only 15 of them.  but too many!  we were super happy to have's fancy tent to retreat too.  even when it was raining, we preferred it.  didn't have to share our manuka honey vodka with anyone!!  oh yeah, the next day was hard too.  coz even tho it was only three hours, it was PISSING down.  so we got drenched.  wet weather gear?  nah, what for, we're HARDCORE.  and uh...wet.  but that was ok.  we had soup when we got there and that was the day that nico decided we should eat ALL of our hot chocolate powder, just like a fondue.  or a chocolate soup.  damn fine idea.  there were some jealous people there.  but we didn't share.  nuh-uh. 
the next day was christmas, also known as the day without food.  yeah, we kinda ate it all already.  and we had left some fucking crackers.  no cheese.  a few nuts.  and water, glorious water.  oh yeah, and we walked oh...about 16km.  piece of piss...not.  actually we nearly had our first fight.  because, we couldn't find the honey.  nico was getting a bit upset.  and pretty much tipped his entire bag out onto the track.  yeah.  hunger changes people.  but we found it.  and we sat and ate every single piece of food we had.  a guy came past and asked if we were opening a restaurant.  he suggested it might be byo - and we said yeah, and you have to feed us too while you're here.  no good.  bastard didn't.  so we kept walking.  when we saw the chateau (a la Shining) at whakapapa village we had to hug and jump around in circles.  then our "beer legs" propelled us the rest of the way - no probs, actually, suddenly we weren't tired anymore.  and the mac's great white tasted bloody fine when we got there - but not as good as the 500g of pasta with a bottle of cream and a hunk of blue cheese that we demolished in a very short period of time for dinner.  more high fives.  actually it was a cool christmas.  oh yeah, except we really missed our families heaps.  so much that we had to drink away our sorrows all night long.  and, good thing was, the fancy pants chateau that we were drinking at had heaps of delicious cakes on offer, for the guests, which didn't really include us, but we got our fair share anyway.
ok.  seriously outta time.  sorry!  can't tell you about art deco napier.  we did check out all the awesome art deco buildings.  there was an earthquake in napier in 1931, i think.  blah blah.  google it.  oh yeah.  huka falls were good too.  AND the hot springs on the way back into taupo.  good clean FREE fun.  yeah.  mhhhmmmmm!!
see ya!
oh and if there are any lp editors reading, there's a typo on pg 573 of the nz guide in the boxed text about the tasman glacier.