As is becoming a common theme with bigclimblittleclimb, we begin with an apology.
We are both extremely sorry for going AWOL in the past few weeks and hope that it will not happen again in the not too distant future. (sad and slightly sheepish face)
While we are (quite) sorry, there are valid reasons for this. It is partly due to our recent lifestyle change; that is, from hard-working city-dwelling internet-users to wannabe free-spirited campers with no roof, no shoes, no showers and no electricity. To be perfectly honest, living under canvas for a month has been nothing but fantastic and although the first few days saw us pining for a memory foam mattress, we now feel wonderfully adept at using just the bare necessities and average a BOLT-ESQUE 5 mins 04 seconds tent erection (ahem) time.
The second, and slightly more difficult to explain, reason, is that we are a little lost for words. There is something about the South Island that is. Just. Awesome. I know it sounds as though we’re just regurgitating the worst of Kiwiana, but it really is. The places and experiences themselves are hard to describe without releasing a volley of superlatives and meaningless descriptions about ‘majestic / towering / forbidding / enormous mountains’ and ‘sparkling / golden / pure / soft sands’ (delete adjective where appropriate). And as you all know, happiness reads white.
Hence, we’ve said nothing.
Take a peek at the photos on our facebook page, which collectively should give you many thousand words and, in order to make some sense of them, here is a brief whirlwind tour of the past few weeks…
We started off here…
This was a four-day freedom kayak trip around the renowned Abel Tasman coastal National Park. Contrary to popular belief, freedom kayaking is NOT the same as a Newport ‘freedom taxi ride’ (where no cash is followed by a quick dash). It just means that you start at point A and arrange to meet back there however many days you want later. In the interim, you choose a couple of campsites up and down the coastline and as long as you make it to the correct campsite on the correct night with the correct number of people / kayaks / other necessary and unnecessary equipment, then all is well. The park itself deserves its pristine reputation and despite the floods of trampers, campers and kayakers in the area, it was one of the most unspoilt areas that we have seen thus far. If you want paradise, you’ve got it here…
Note for your bucket lists: if you can, stay at Mosquito Bay. Access by water only, dramatic tidal variation, and one of the best early morning views that you can ever ask for. There’s a reason why we found a picture of this on page 4 of the LP (fame).
From there, we somehow got stuck here…
By stuck we mean we just couldn’t leave. Perhaps it was the hippy vibe (ex-Luminators, dontcha know) in the area; perhaps it was the free campsites that we stumbled across; perhaps it was that we wanted to spend a few more days with our soon-to-depart Norwegian and Argentinian travel buddies. Whatever it was, the whole of the Golden Bay area was without a doubt one of our favourites, and our reluctance to leave is testament to that.
Dragging ourselves kicking and screaming (note: WRITER’S HYPERBOLE) from Golden Bay, we took the Wild West route down the coast, straight into Glacial Valley. Which is as exciting as it sounds. Home to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, as well as a ton (not literally) of other, smaller glaciers, this is the Southern Alps at its finest.
Does anyone else distinctly remember studying glaciers at GCSE / Standard Grade / O-Level (we’re not judging here) and learning a whole load of concepts and formations yet never EVER seeing one? We certainly do. Everyone always seems to be able to explain the formation of an arret or a hanging valley or an ox-bow lake but, let’s be honest, how many times have you actually seen one? Do they even exist?
Well, here’s the thing…
THEY DEFINITELY DO! We’ve SEEN them and we can CONFIRM their existence. Panic over. And to put another dusting of snow on an already very cold, couple of kilometre long tongue of ice, these glaciers are one of a kind due to their position close to the sea; during the ice age (around 15,000 to 20,000 years ago) the glaciers actually reached the sea… probably the greatest slide ever.
The Franz Josef is the bigger of the two, but is so over-hyped and over-stated that you’re practically vomiting information on the glacier before you’ve even seen it.
A few ks down the road you come across the miniscule town of Fox which starts at a solid good and only gets better. Over the (many) years, the glacier has retreated and left a Lord of the Rings type valley; sheer rock faces on each side and an ice-grey flat bottom. Tourists can walk for around 20-minutes to reach the glacier tip, which is both hugely impressive and quite terrifying at the same time. The great tongue of ice, light blue in the centre and dirty grey on the top, is enormous. You can see the guided tour groups walking on the ice looking like miniature action men, with a guide in front hacking out a path for them to follow. At random, chunks of the ice fall off and rock debris and shards of ice tumble into the slate grey river rushing out from underneath the glacier. Funny as it sounds, it was all pretty humbling. Partly because of the size, partly because of the insane raw beauty, but mostly because of the actual danger of it all – only a couple of months ago some snap happy tourists crossed DOC barriers and ended up under the ice. Rescuers couldn’t even retrieve the bodies because it was too dangerous for them.
One thing to rival seeing the glaciers? Seeing them reflected in a lake. Formed when the glacier retreated and left an ice block in its wake, neighbouring Lake Matheson should without a doubt be in the list of ‘Top Ten Photo Ops’. Have a look for yourself…
All glaciered out, we got back on the road and drove inland through the Haast Pass to Wanaka, Queenstown and Glenorchy*; New Zealand’s very own Jane Bennett, Lizzie Bennett and Mary Bennett, respectively. Wanaka is another place that we found near impossible to leave; a small town hemmed in by a vast lake on one side and impassable mountains on the other three. It has something of an alpine village feel to it – probably because that is what it is in winter. Tourism is big there, but it hasn’t completely taken over and there is a real familial and cutesy without being kitch atmosphere. Perhaps the highlight was watching the Super 15 rugby match in a local pub – Otago Highlanders (the home-ish team) vs. Waikato Chiefs. The rugby set Celyn into raptures; the happy hour prices and free hotdog with every drink (we need that more in the UK) worked for Imogen.
Wanaka is often compared to its neighbour, Queenstown. Both famous for their second to none scenery, busy ski season, and ‘adrenaline junkie’ appeal, Queenstown is supposed to be the lashy crazy older brother while Wanaka lingers a bit behind in a sort of almost-but-not-quite second position. To be honest, I can’t stand the way that guidebooks compare the two towns. Yes, Queenstown can be lashtastic and you can down ten shots of Bacardi whilst doing a 1,0000 m bungee jump and then frogging (it’s not as dirty as it sounds) down a river. But, that’s not all, and it means that visitors nearly always arrive with preconceptions neatly etched on their minds. We felt as though we arrived with an idea of what we were in for and I think our opinions on the place were formed before we’d even crossed the Crown Range. Which isn’t fair for any town, no matter how good or bad it might be. Cursing guidebooks aside (our Lonely Planet is now lounging in a charity shop somewhere in Christchurch… but that’s another story), Queenstown is a great place to quietly fritter away a few days (if you’re poor) or alternatively, spend a fair bit of cash and knock a couple of years off your life (if you’re rich). Either way, it has a huge range of bucket list activities (although they come at a price), a café culture that rivals gay Pareee, a lot of Brits, and some really really good drinks deals.
Actually, who are we kidding? We know that one massive draw in QT was our happy camping in the backyard of Miss Natalie Farmer’s former house. And Ferg Burger.
We’re going to have to stop here, it’s getting late and the only other person left in McDonald’s appears to have died over one of the tables.
Hold that thought – we’ll be back for the second instalment shortly…
*For some reason we hardly took any photos there. Weird.