Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rock and Ice.

The core and for me best part of our time in New Zealand involved four or five days mostly taken up by walks and climbs through some of the most spectacular scenery that I have been lucky enough to encounter.

Arthur's Pass

Heading north-west from Christchurch Christina, Uwe and I drove through the mist and rain towards New Zealand's highest road pass. The weather cleared up just in time to allow some "bouldering" at Castle Hill.
With a backdrop of some serious mountains, a hill covered in large gray boulders is a playground for excitable Kiwis. We paid more attention to the scenery then the bouldering (an activity which involves cambering over seeming un-clamberable stones) before heading on to the highest pass... Arthur's Pass has a small village full of very serious looking people with gore-tex multi-level gear, well gear. Uwe felt quite at home having lived amongst similar folk in the German alps while Chris and I found it all quite funny. On the first afternoon we undertook a three hour climb up to a university ski-chalet and back down again. Basked in the sunshine we all had smiles on our faces as we criss-crossed our way to better and better views of the mountains across the valley. With huge satisfaction we made it to the snow level and did the only thing appropriate - our first NZ snow fight.
The next day we climbed up to something just below 2000m to the summit of Avalanche Peak. A great ramble of slowly dwarfing scenery. First through thick fern and lichen hung tree forest. Then into the thinner stuff with startling views of a 100 odd metre waterfall on a not too far-off face before the trees disappeared all together and we hit tussock grassland.
At this point we met our inquisitive friend - the Kea (or mountain parrot). Very intelligent creatures , apparently with the cognitive ability of a three year old child, that followed us all the way to the top. As we became less at home as the snowfields encroached they were more and more happy.
One even kept Chris company for almost an hour while Uwe and I climber over some steeper rocks and transversed a ridge or two to the summit - as always a great feeling!
Uwe and a "summit kea"
To the Tasman Sea

With only a couple of aches, we jumped back in the Timmie (the car) and crossed the rest of the mountain range. Back to the sea and past some scary looking small towns, we shot straight to Franz Josef Glacier (or Frans Hosev if you go with Uwe's explanation of Austrian pronunciation). This is glacier country!
Rather than pay a really quite large amount climbing a small way up the glacier, we took one of the trails up the side of the mountain overlooking Franz Josef Glacier. It was not a mistake. We missed the creaking cracking, slippery experience of being on the glacier (a great feeling, but one I have had a number of times before), but were blessed with some eerily fascinating flora and top-notch views. The glacier (along with some 200 odd in this area) pour down from the highs of the Southern Alps towards the Tasman Sea. Searing its way through a mountain (and hence back and forth through the valley it has created as it proceeds and then recedes in succession over the centuries), Franz Josef Glacier is one of the largest and a sight to behold.
This sight is witheld from us by a number of hours of clambering along a windy and slippery track through dense forest that looks like it has come straight out of a dinosaur movie. All fern, loping tree and moss. At times you can feel the chill from the glacier as you go around a corner before crossing the inevitable rope bridge over ravine after ravine - not Chris's favourite moment (having vertigo and all).
Not that it needed to be, us all enjoying the trek as we did, but the view at the end was awe-inspiring. A giant river of ice (for that is literally what a glacier is, encroaching cm by cm) flowing with awesome power down from the clouds to the valley below. The valley that it has cut and gouged is sheer and domineering. We chill and enjoy the setting while a couple more kea say hello.

For a closer look we also do the walk along the river bed to the base of the glacier which shows the towering white and brown face in all its glory. A sight none of us is likely to forget.
With a tad of regret we are back in the car (the way of road trips I suppose) and off to southern lakes. Via a skydive.....for me at least...
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