I awoke from my slumber on the 4th day of our trip to the sound of Merle sneaking her way out of the room at about 7am. She wasn’t very loud, I just happened to be awake already given the hayfever induced coma I had slipped into early the evening before. Merle was on her way to do a skydive over the Frans Joseph Glacier but unfortunately returned about half an hour later as all the flights had been cancelled for the morning. The thing that I have not quite got over yet is how changeable the weather can be here in New Zealand. One moment it can be sunny, the next cloudy with rain. In fact many of these different weather patterns can even happen in the same day! As it happened, on this day heavy fog and cloud had moved in during the early hours of the morning and was so thick that you couldn’t even see the mountains that were clearly visible out of our window the night before. Since this seems to be a bit of a common occurrence here they just moved her dive to the afternoon and rescheduled. The bonus of this was that it gave us all some time together in the morning to do something together so the general consensus was to do the 1 hour hike to the terminal face of the glacier.
The hike to the glacier turned out to be more of a “casual walk” than a hike but I suppose it was at the right level for us given what we did the day before. Yesterdays hike was a constant climb the entire way, mainly on single track and over tree roots. Today it was almost completely flat ith a few rocks to get over. The reason for this was that the whole area was situated in the river delta and the flowing river had carved its way through the valley over the millennia to leave an arid landscape crushed rock, big and small, with the occasional driftwood tree looking like a little twig in the epic landscape.
At first we were a little disappointed that there was not a real hike to sink our teeth into but soon we all quickly agreed that a casual stroll was probably all we could muster anyway. The only issue with going on the free version of the glacier hike is knowing that you cant got anywhere near as close as the people that are paying for the guided tours. With the “turn up and go for a walk” version that we were doing the hike eventually ended about 500m from the actual face of the ice so nowhere near to really see it as well as we would have liked but that is all we could manage. Along the way there were large chunks of ice that had been brought down from the glacier and just sat by the side of the trail for people to take pictures with but that is about as close as we got. Although it is a bit gutting it also makes total sense from a safety perspective. We may have been conscientious hikers but there were plenty of other people there that day that didn’t have a clue or even the right footwear to have gotten anywhere near actual ice and would probably have died if let loose near the top. A bit of a PR nightmare that I am sure the NZ tourist board want to avoid. Still, we managed to get some decent pics and Frankie came through for us all by being the one that snuck along a bag of ciders for the gang. It may have only been one little can each, but it was cold and well earned on a warm day and that is all you can ask for from a summer cider.
After our uneventful decent Merle headed off to do her skydive while the rest of us grabbed some lunch in a local cafe. We had only just finished eating by the time she was back. At first we thought it must have been cancelled again but it turns out that they are just stupidly efficient when it comes to throwing people out of aircraft in New Zealand. Within 40 mins she had been briefed, gone up, jumped and been brought back to town. Job done! It wasn’t just the planes that were that efficient either, the helicopters had their timing down to an art while landing in town. In the town centre there are around 6 or 7 helipads, however at any given time there must be about 15 helicopters in the air at once. All these choppers are taking turns in taking the tourists on the various different flights on offer around the mountains, some even stopping and landing for the clients to get out and stand on the ice for a while. This means that there is a constant juggling act going on with choppers landing, refueling and taking on passengers in almost a constant cycle. Often they have their passengers swapped and are back up again with the space of a few minutes, not even bothering to power down their engines. It is quite a sight to see how precise the whole show is and to them imagine that they do this constantly, nearly every day of the year!
After lunch it was time for us all to start parting our ways. Craig and I had booked to go on a Quad tour but the others needed to start making way across to the other side of the island so were hitting the road a bit earlier than us. It was emotional saying goodbye as even though we intended on seeing each other again over the next few days there was a possibility we wouldn’t bump into each other and then all the cool kids were leaving the country leaving Craig and I left. The hardest thing about travelling so much that people never seem to mention is leaving the friends that you have met along the way. Yes travel helps you make new friends and experience things you never dreamed of but it is also sometimes crushing when you have to say goodbye to those amazing friends you have just made because your lives are going in different directions. I am happy to say that I have kept in contact with a lot of people I have
traveled with and met along the way and would certainly love to see them again, the only issue is that the world is a big place and when everyone returns home it suddenly becomes much harder to keep in touch. Yes we have the internet and Facebook which really helps but it is not substitute to sitting on a hill, talking crap and watching the sun go down with a like minded friend.
After our heartfelt goodbyes the dynamic duo headed off to the riverbed for our quading adventure. I hadn’t been on a quad bike in years so was really looking forwards to it, especially at the discounted rate that Craig managed to find online. At first we had to mess about proving our competency driving in circles and around a little track before we could head out into the wilderness but as soon as we did it was loads of fun. Smashing through puddles and muddy ditches it amazing and so much fun. It is certainly something I want to do more often, maybe even getting my own one day if I ever figure out where I could go to ride it. The view of the mountains as we got further away from town was amazing and the guides were really great, telling us a bit about the area when we had a little rest half way. They were both locals who had grown up in the area so knew it like the back of their hand. The most shocking thing for us though was that they used to have to commute 2 hours each way to get to school each day which completely blows my mind. Out in back country NZ there isn’t really that many people so it makes sense that they would have to go away to school, but doing that journey on a bus every day just seems like a bit of a nightmare. This is the cost of paradise though I guess.
By the time we had finished our mini ATV adventure we were covered in dust from the rocky riverbed. It was all over our clothes, on our skin and (for Craig anyway) in our hair too. The worst part about this though was that we had nowhere to go that we could even get washed off. Our next spot for someone to stay was still a few hours away so we brushed off what we could, jumped into the car and headed on our way.
While we had been travelling about we had heard about all of the Department of Conservation camp grounds that there are all over NZ and so we decided to check one of them out. These camp grounds are owned by the government and are a bit more of a free for all than strictly organised plots, however if everyone plays fair then it works out really well. The cost per night is $6 each (around £3) and you just fill in a little tag, put your money into a secure box and pop the tag on your tent. Simple as that. For that cost you end up with a basic camp site with toilets, an area to wash dishes and somewhere to get drinking water. It isn’t anything spectacular but it is all well maintained and in our case it was also next to a beautiful lake that was also a stones throw away from the ocean. It was time to make use of the BBQ’s that we had brought with us so we busted them out and and had ourselves some nice BBQ beef burgers while the sun slowly went down. The more I blog about this road trip the more it is going to sound like “Dan and Craig’s romantic getaway”, and yes we have been told a couple of times that it sounds like were a couple (especially after our evening walks on the beach!). Bellies full we went back to our tent, still dirty and covered in dust like the manly men we were with a plan to also wash the way manly men do, by jumping into a lake first things in the morning. With our simplistic plan drawn out it was time to hit the hay and get a good nights sleep and see what the next day has to bring.