One of the key points of the adventure that Craig and I had arranged was that we hadn’t really arranged much… or anything for that matter. Aside from the plan of spending Christmas Eve and night in Wakana we had exactly zero plans of what to do for the next chunk of days that we both had off of work. Our rough goal was at some point to go sea kayaking in the Able Tasman national park, however we hadn’t even put a date on this and didn’t really have anything planned any further than that. On Christmas day Frankie had suggested that we go and take a look at the Rob Roy Glacier that isn’t that far from Wanaka and so that’s what we did (we are very easily influenced).
The start point of our hike was only about 35km away in a straight line but took us well over an hour to get there on the long and winding roads of back country New Zealand. Since the road doesn’t lead anywhere other than to the start of the track there isn’t seen to be much point in putting in a tarmac road which means suddenly at one point along the way you hit a gravel track and have to slow right down to avoid stone chips and huge pot holes. The other issue with driving on the gravel roads was the amount of dust that it all kicked up. It wasn’t even an option to have the windows down as the amount of dust that would come in through the windows would have suffocated us in an instant. Behind the car a huge dust cloud blew over the fields letting everyone within a few miles know that we were on our way. Passing other cars on this one lane road was also quite interesting as after you manage to get past them you then have the issue of not being able to see anything for the next few minutes while you wait for the dust to settle around you, effectively driving along blind, hoping that there isn’t anything else coming to take you out! The constant dust was also broken up with other obstacles such as little streams or quite large fords that we had to cross. Luckily for us we had taken the 4×4 Outlander so got through without a hitch but I really wouldn’t have wanted to be in a small car given the size of some of the streams we had to cross. At least it made us feel like real wilderness warriors out to have ourselves a proper adventure.
After the excitement of the drive we got to the car park at the start of the trail and were a little disheartened with our expeditionary efforts when we noticed all the standard, small, rental cars that filled most of the car park. It seems that no matter how much of an adventurer you think you are there is always a tourist on holiday with a rental car they don’t give a shit about that will go harder and further than you would dream!
After getting over our now deflated egos we all stopped to actually take in the scenery for a moment as we were all blown away by it. Just from the car park the view way amazing with mountains all around us and the river flowing by. After being cooped up in the car for so long the only thing that everyone wanted was to get out and start walking so it was bags packed, water topped up, sun cream on (yes even me) and Santa hats on heads and then onwards to glory!
The beautiful thing that I will never quite get over about New Zealand is that whenever you think you have found the best view of the most perfect of scenes there is always one that is 10 times better around the next corner. On the way up on our hike none of us were really that well prepared or in the best of shape (given the night of drinking beforehand) and a few times we had almost said to ourselves “Ok this view is amazing, there is not point going any further.” Yet each time we had decided to just go for another 5 minutes and ended up seeing yet another amazing thing, be it the birds, rivers, waterfalls or mountains. As we eventually got to the top of the hike we were greeted by the terminal face of the Rob Roy Glacier at the other side of the valley to us, waterfalls cascading down the mountains as the snow and ice slowly melted. It was quite an awe inspiring moment as every now and again you could hear the whole mountain groan and crack as the ice slowly shifted and melted away. Pretty sure we got a few group selfies to commemorate our achievement, however it seems that none of them were on my camera so Frankie / Merle, I need those pics!
Although the way up was quite a hard climb, the way down for me was personally the harder challenge. Ever since damaging my knee when I was 14 I have had problems walking down hills. The issue is that my knee on my right leg is weaker than my left meaning that when I go down on it I end up dropping quite hard and in a bit of a clunky manner. This becomes uncomfortable really quickly and makes walking down steep inclines quite annoying. To combat this though I have found that bizarrely running seems to not cause me a problem at all since the movement is different which means that whenever I walk up a big hill I end up running down it as its easier. This often makes me look like a bit of an idiot but I also actually quite like the challenge and it can be quite fun. On this occasion though it wasn’t as fun as I would have liked. To add to the knee problems I was also having a bit of a bad attack of hayfever, complete with blocked noes, runny eyes and difficulty breathing. This unfortunately is one of the downsides of having Christmas in the middle of summer. My hayfever was so bad at one point that I could hardly see and kept having to squint to even be able to see where I was going. This is not the best of combinations when running down a precarious mountain but needs must so I just went for it. With my rucksack straps pulled tight and my friends informed that I wasn’t being a dick and did need to run off I set off down the hill at pace, flying past other tourists both ascending and descending while still wearing my Santa hat. I admit I did get some strange looks along my way but also quite a few nods and smiles which evens it all out and although I could hardly breath or see I did have quite a lot of fun along the way.
One of the other motivations for my extra burst of speed was the call of nature. On my way down I had started to really need a wee but there was literally nowhere to go. Because the track was so steep into the side of the gorge there wasn’t really the ability to go off the track much and as there were so many people there was constantly someone around the next corner who could have seen if I stopped in the middle of the track to pee on a tree. The only option was to get all the way back to the car park and use the proper toilet down there. So on Boxing day while wearing a red Santa hat, sunglasses and a backpack I practically sprinted down a mountain with snot running out of my nose in order to go for a wee! All in all I must say this is one of my greatest accomplishments as I did put in a damn good pace. I had got down the track, to the toilet and was sitting by the river cooling off my feet for over 20 mins before everyone else finally joined me. As my friend Mr. Richardson once said “There is nothing better for a personal best than needing the toilet” and I don’t think a truer statement can be made.
After a little rest and relaxation it was time to make a move and start making our way to our next location for the evening, Frans Joseph. Due to the mountain ranges in Otago it can cause some issues when it comes to driving. Although we had driven an hour north of Wanaka we had to drive all the way back there in order to drive north again to get to Frans Joseph since it was the other side of the lake. Since we were doing this we had just taken the 1 car all the way to the track which did save fuel etc. but it did mean we had to get back to the car park and sort out the stuff in the cars before heading onwards on another 3+ hour drive. At this point the hayfever had won me over and I had to play passenger for a while and let Craig drive. For the next 3 hours I sat in the passenger seat with my eyes closed hoping for the stinging to stop so that I would be able to open my eyes. Unfortunately I had no such luck and by the time we got to Franz Joseph I just headed straight to bed to try and sleep while the other got dinner and made some plans for the next day.
Even though the hayfever did take me out of action and I deeply hate having it I am happy to say that it didn’t ruin my day and my memories of the day are still all positive. I am still so glad that I did it and got to share the experience with some great friends.