Punakaiki, New Zealand
December 28, 2007
One of the first things i noticed and loved in Punakaiki, besides the beautiful surroundings, was an overwhelming sense of calm that made me want to hang up the pack and chill out for weeks on end. And the thing that really made me fall in love with Punakaiki, and more specifically the Te Nikau resort at which I was about to settle in, was the ability (and encouragement) to do so! Immediately after I checked in with a woman who runs the hostel, who is originally from Wales(!) and vegetarian (!), I saw a sign about “work-exchange”…hmm…I liked this idea from the last place…work a little, save a little…so I inquired with a smiling, outgoing man who was hip-hopping around the hostel greeting guests.
From the instant the question came out of my mouth I was swept away in a wave of enthusiastic thankfulness and excitement towards my inquiry. Literally all I spoke was, “so…I saw the work-exchange sign?” and immediately his eyes lit up like I had just presented him with a winning lotto ticket: “oh that would just be great!! Look oh…that would be just fantastic!” a welcome hand outstretched “hi! I’m Hamish!…well…ryan…this is just so perfect…it’s so nice to meet you! you could spend new years with us! Be great! Can you stay that long?!” and the best part of this question was that I had the ultimate freedom to stay or go… “sure!” and I think if it was possible his happy gate became even bouncier and so ecstatic that I was now being escorted through the staff quarters (I mean…I literally still had my pack on my back at this point)…shown where I would sleep, eat, and cook…yes cook…all part of the duties. I don’t think I’ve ever had a friendlier, welcoming hello in my life. and definitely not over work-exchange. who was this man?
That evening I was eating around a dinner table with all the other WWOOFers, as I found was my new title, and becoming part of a nice little new family that served pasta and veggie meat for dinner…I like this place already! So WWOOF…I must explain of course. First off, it is incredible, amazing, and undoubtedly unfortunate that I had never heard of it before. It stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms (check it out! WWOOF). More incredibly, it operates world wide and works as such: “willing workers” purchase a book online which is the only fee to join (about $30 I think) for the country they wish to visit, and this contains hundreds of people that operate farms, gardens, hostels and just about anything else providing organic services and are in need of help in exchange for food, accommodation and a lovely cultural experience. These helpers are thus deemed “woofers” and can basically travel the world on a small budget with only their eager desires to learn about organics and experience a place differently than any tourist ever could, to guide them.
The Te Nikau Retreat used to manage an organic garden on the premises but now only use woofers to help with the cleaning duties. So…really…it’s not like most wwoof places…but it still operates according to the lovely concept and gave me the opportunity to learn what wwoof was all about and meet other kids involved, including Melanie, my hitch-hikin’ travel buddy for the next month, and Maurus, my swiss trekking guide! Two amazing people whose friendships I cherish… though each of them have travelled on for now. Ah the transient life of a traveller. Luckily facebook keeps us all connected! But you really could wwoof all over the entire world. as one astute traveller explained: “uh-oh…now you’ll never go home!” Well that’s certainly not true, but it does provide previously unheard of access about this earth with only a tiny budget to spare. So…the prospect of endless travel proves not only tempting, but possible!
But back to Te Nikau. After that lovely dinner I was up the next morning to take part in my first duties: baking fresh bread and muffins for sale at the hostel. Well…it’s more like baking for the salivating masses that hovered as we mixed, floured, kneaded, and sent wonderful smells soaring through the hostel to lure anyone that wasn’t already eagerly questioning “are the muffins ready??!” making fresh bread is awesome! I must do it more often…oh the things I learning…see Ma? Life skills! We also ate quite well in te nikau…we all took turns cooking for everyone and stuff ourselves silly. I have now also seen someone pour cream on cheesecake and butter a cookie. Wow. I must also mention that Te Nikau retreat is a very unique hostel…in that it really is a retreat and not a hostel. Situated within the rainforest and I mean in…you have to walk on a little stony path with the rainforest and nikau palms surrounding…people actually get lost trying to find their rooms…which are in fact about 5 different houses scattered amongst the dense greenery. So we baked in the main house and live in what is essentially a converted garage across the way. Love it. “bloody luxury” as Hamish would often calmly proclaim when he wasn’t bursting with positive vibrations on how we were “just great! You guys! What a wonderful job you do…oh that is just great!” And after a few hours of cleaning duties the day was ours to recover, relax and reinvigorate our souls among this unique rainforest retreat. This often involved reading, writing, or walking down to the beach (about 5 minutes through the rainforest that opens up to flax plants and a glimpse of the sea from high above the shore) and watch the ocean surge against the sheer, jagged cliff sides that make up the coastline. The beach was not swimmable…but instead a place to sit up and watch the power of the waves crashing on the sand and spewing up throw the blow holes that blow just on the edge of this cliff side…pretty cool. and the sunsets here (the kiwi term: “greatest show on earth” heh)…well…you can imagine…and if not…I’ve got plenty of pictures to help kickstart the imagination.
One of the most entertaining things we found at the retreat was hamish’s old HiFi…I immediately dug it out from its dusty isolation and hooked it up to the large speakers already set-up and pleading for use, and a massive stack of old, random records….we put on some quite amusing tunes. One of the other houses also had a record player and I spent one of my days (or many??) blasting the only singable record I could find…it had to be Sound of Music. Haha…you can imagine me in this massive, wooden, lodge of a house, belting it out with Julie Andrews as I made up the beds and scrubbed the toilets. Good stuff. We had a lot of fun with that hi-fi…some very strange kiwi stuff in there…every day it was a new song to wake up to…and I had to cringe when one of the girls, Beatrice, picked Saturday Night Fever for the night after new years…not quite the right rhythms for such a morning. Haha. Especially when the night before she had decided the Forest Gump Suite (it’s about a 20 minute long orchestral sweep) would be a perfect pick on the pub jute box. the bar woman actually came and rescued us all by resetting the entire jute box…”who put this on!!” The patrons were growing evermore confused and restless with each crescendo…We all tried to not look guilty of that crime. Ohhhh Bea. And as for new years…just like you would expect in new zealand, it was incredibly laid back. Spent at the only pub probably within a 50 mile radius, we chilled out with some locals, drank beer, and experimented with the array of musical instruments they randomly had there. I think I actually convinced a few people that I play accordion (the sitar was a little much for me). The countdown was half-hearted at best…no one seemed that interested…and on television? a kiwi sports recap of the year…nothing more. huh. cool.
One day we all set out for a kayak trip for our time off…discount for wwoofers! it was an incredible day…the sun scorched down and glistened off the water as we “cruised” along, upstream, away from the ocean…but now facing some of the most picture-worthy, rock-exposed cliff sides, with rainforest clinging on to the edges. It was the decision to take a billion pictures and drift back down stream or keep pushing along, head craned back, awestricken…and then still get pushed back down stream because you forgot for a moment just what you were doing. i ended up pretzeling your body to try and capture the right angle before being steered away by the river. The best for a laugh was coming to a little rapid, where instead of confidently striding along with the paddle, you instead came to a watery tread-mill. I couldn’t stop laughing and hence didn’t make much progress. Another one was flipping. I was confident I would stay safely in my kayak for the whole duration of the trip but after getting out to help a fellow flipper, I got a bit cocky trying to push off like I was on a skateboard and just “hop” in. it was more like, push, hop and flop….”yep, that’s cold! Yes, yes it is!” Melanie…meanwhile is in front of me going “what’d you do! How’d you just flip it!” haha. Now I know…put the butt down before the other leg. At one point we were clinging to the moss on a massive boulder on the bank trying to make it up this massive rapid. “ I think I got it…yep…It’ s working…yep, yep” and then I just see melanie go flying back past me…horizontal with the rapid about 20 feet back in seconds…”maaaybe not”. Laughter did not help my cause…and as we all know…once I start. Ya…it took a while to get up that one. Of course on the way back …it was a breeze…an absolute joy. Like a roller-coaster…small enough rapids that there is no worry…just fun.
Another day was spent at the beach, about a 20 minute walk away, further down the coast where the sand opens to a huge, expansive and relatively unoccupied beach. Unlike home and various other coastal communities in the world, new Zealand does not build up the sea-side. Instead it sits perfectly peaceful, in a natural state. When we lay out on the sand and looked out, all there was to see was vast ocean and miles of sand to one side and the other, rainforest. definitely a place to “retreat” to. I had hoped to go for a little body-surf but the water was very rough and shorebreaking…not to mention the insane undertow I could observe from the shore. So instead we pranced in the water like little kids…chasing the water as it slid up and out, down and back into the swirling currents and rather large waves that crashed right before us. Still another day, Pascal, Melanie and I went boulder hopping and scampering beneath rock coves that led from one tiny isolated beach to another, each of which felt like a secret spot we had discovered. Hamish also took us all on a few walks as well to some beautiful spots along the beach where the rock formations continued to impress. And Punakaiki is actually famous for the “pancake rocks” which are in fact a scientific mystery (MB…tell me what it is!!). so fascinating to look at! Looks like a phenomenon of the ocean world that has been raised above the water at some point and luckily now available to touristy eyes. (unfortunately I didn’t have my camera that day!). but they are massive stacks and stacks of thin layers of rock all “pancaked” together. Rippling towers all rising out of the sea in a canyon-like fashion.
After Pascal and Beatric left, two new American wwoofers, just out of high school, arrived in Te Nikau. And then another came, Maurus, followed by two German girls. We all had a great time and one of the better experiences was a hike that Maurus took a few of us on. And man was this a hike…whew. Mt Ryall? That doesn’t sound so bad…two hours up? No problem. Well…2 hours later Lizzy (vermontier) and I were breathlessly staggering up and up, gasping “it never ends! Just keeps going…and going” it’s a trick mountain! each time we thought…oh, here it is! The bush is changing…I see the light! We would turn a corner…be directed down instead of up and be on the path to an even steeper angle to climb the mountain than one would think possible. It was a pretty good workout to say the least. When Lizzy went ahead for a bit as I waited for the others…she soon called back in a voice that beckoned “ryyyyan??” but with undertones that stated “you haven’t collapsed dead have you??”.
When we finally did reach the summit (yes…we made it) I wish I could gush about views that rewarded our climb but alas…it must have taken us so long that the sun got tired and let the clouds take over for a while. Even still…the hike was great…it always seems to feel this way once you make it to the top and we did catch glimpses of a spectacular view in between the cloudy, white mass surrounding us. See…maurus is a serious tramper, and as melanie termed, “aerodynamic” man. In short…he’s fit and hardcore. What he did in 2 hours…took us 3…and we weren’t going that slow! Well…besides the last half-hour we spent in desperate, plodding steps. On the way down we could see the sun setting over the sea beyond which was such a sight. I may have to come back to this hike just to see what I was missing. Luckily when we arrived back to te nikau after dark, some delicious warm soup that maurus had made for dinner earlier in the day awaited us. Mmmm.
I spent two weeks in Punakaiki and learned so much: about travel, wwoof, baking, cooking and life in general from our good friend Hamish. This is how I wanted to live…simply and flexibly enough to take these unique opportunities that present themselves. I made such a great friend in Melanie and she must have felt a bit the same and we decided to head south back down the coast together. I was on my way to Te Anau and she, to find another wwoof spot. But we figured we could journey together and bravely try hitch-hiking…sounded like another new experience I was eager and ready to try. Beware drivers: “we have chocolate”.
Franz Josef, New Zealand
December 23, 2007
And the day i set out for a hike, it was indeed a glacial kind of day. That meaning I was standing on a massive block of ice and it was frickin cold! Alright, alright…i’ll stop complaining…i was after all…hiking on a glacier…which, ya…is pretty sweet. But really, it’s not usually that cold up there. And before you get all excited about the shorts thing…just be patient…I’ll get to that…promise. So after a couple days in Fox glacier village (which is really all the time anyone should spend there), I once again boarded the bus for the ride over 2 mountainsides and arrived in Franz Josef (named for the Austrian emperor) glacier village. A hint bigger than Fox, Franz had a similar feel…a restless little place where the only trade is selling beds, selling food, selling alcohol and selling guided trips up onto the glacier. And what a generous soul I was…I contributed to each one of these. I had heard that the Franz Josef glacier was the one to shell out the money and attempt a full-day hike on…so I was very excited to arrive and book my trip. You can do various hikes around the glacier and right up near the terminal face (love that term) on your own, but in order to actually crampon across the thing you needed to follow in line behind a woman and/or man wielding an ice axe and the rest of the frozen tourists up for the challenge.
My original plan was to be on this thing on Christmas day…happily skipping around in glorious sunshine singing songs like “we wish you a glacial Christmas! We wish you a glacial Christmas!” and perhaps donning a santa hat just for good measure. Well…turns out they don’t guide on Christmas which is fair enough. Everyone deserves a day away from whiny tourists asking the same questions over and over again “soo…you’ve got yerself a pretty big ice block here eh? And they say the planet’s warming…psshh. “right sir, you actually put those crampons on with the spikes pointed up…yep…just like that.” So I figured the day after Christmas sounded perfect. When I went to check into the hostel I noticed a sign for “work-exchange” and my eyes lit-up. I was quickly and steadily coming to the last lonely dollars in my bank account and this was all too appealing. You work for a few hours and in exchange get free laundry (I was also coming to my last lonely pair of underwear) and free accommodation. And with this “opportunity” I suddenly had my first job after receiving my college diploma. Maid service! Ahh…those Hamilton dollars sure paid off. Haha. and the hostel’s name:…Château Franz. Should I even go into this one? Chateau? Chateau! at least this fancy name made me feel a bit better about the cleaning job. another perk was that they provided free vegetarian soup every night for the guests and free popcorn. Of course that soup came back to haunt me when I had to clean a caldron big enough to fit a small child into.
All of this ramble is just to explain that work-exchange forced me to push my glacier hike a day later…so as it turned out…the two days that bookended my miserable hike were radiantly sunny and beautiful. People were coming back from this thing with tan-lines and enough pictures to catalogue them into various stages of the day. Buut what can you do? Tell the miserable story of course!
Luckily I did have the motivation to hike on one of these glorious days myself and took a route to the glacier that I gathered not many do. Since most people just sign up for the glacier hike, hop on the bus and return at the end of the day, it seemed that no one really sticks around for other hikes to the glacier..i mean…they’ve already seen it, been on it…what’s more to do? Well since I had the extra time and I like to explore everything I can in a place I noticed a spattering of trails around the glacier and inquired. I was soon off with a day pack and scampering along the way to the glacier. Went through rainforest and masses of green moss, over rocks, through mud, muck and water…the last three teaming up to nearly remove my shoes a couple of times. Trying to avoid the gooey muck I quickly made my way along the trail…crossed a few “creeks” at which I would stand to one side and think “right…if I go this way I’ll only get wet up to my knee…here to my ankle…and oh! Here’s a possible dry route…just don’t slip…” I continued for a while along the river that comes out of the Franz glacier (though I still couldn’t see the thing) and then cut back into the forest before coming to the last bridge (lovely inventions they are), hiked up another little hill and arrived at Peter’s Pool…a serene little reflective pond, where I met all the tourists who had driven to the area walked 5 minutes to the same place, to catch the sight of the glacier impressively showing off it’s grandeur. Seemingly still, inconspicuously active it constantly advances and retreats. This looked much bigger than Fox and I couldn’t wait to be climbing on it the next day. Still full of energy I set off for another little hike before retreating back to the “chateau” for more free soup.
And I must add that even though I come from Christmases full of summery southern California weather, I’ve never actually had a Christmas in summer (remember NZ is reverse for seasons) and man did that feel weird. Even leading up to it…I just never felt like we were in the holiday season…and it probably didn’t help that I’ve never been away for the santa claus, consumerist extravaganza…but it just didn’t feel right. Either way…I was in New Zealand for christmas celebrating with a barbeque set up for the 5 or 6 surrounding hostels in the area…was a bizarre day I must say….fun in a way…but just weird. Anyway…enough of that!
The next day when I awoke it was to a gloomy, ominous sky…but the possibility for a clear day didn’t seem to far-fetched. Maybe I was being too optimistic. At the guide center we suited up with gear and I reluctantly slid my feet into soaking wet boots. I inquired whether a dry pair might be possible but the woman informed me they’re all that wet and would probably be wetter once we were out there. Fair enough….i didn’t want to be one of the wimpy, whiny tourists. But I soon learned on our first trek across scores of boulders just to reach the terminal face that I seemed to be the only one with uncomfortably soggy and already cold feet (not to mention that I always have cold feet…so I knew this was going to be a test of will). And for all the comments I received as to the shorts I was sporting in all of my photos. Yes…I was wearing my little workout shorts on a glacier…but allow me to explain that I was not sadistically testing myself, proving anything, or having a mental breakdown due to hypothermia or the like. It wasn’t raining at this point…not cold at all, our guides were all in shorts and I knew that most people wear shorts and a t-shirt, hats, sunglasses and a generous amount of sunscreen because the sun reflection off the ice is so intense. and after we hiked up to the glacier the guides informed us that if we were warm now we should shed a few layers because we were going to start hiking upwards…and since I’ve always preferred walking in shorts and also because the pants they provided were so baggy I probably would have ended up tangling myself in the extra fabric impeding every step, I quickly took those off.
So the crampons are attached to the boots and now we’re heading onto the ice! But what I was completely unaware of is the sloth pace you follow. Because the guide has to constantly be checking the path (please do! I’m not in the mood to fall to an icy death thank you) and create steps, and fill in any holes by hacking away at the ice, it is a lot of walk, walk, hike, hike, STOP…waaaaaaaaait. Walk, walk….STOP….waaaaaaaaaait. it was still really cool to be hiking on a glacier but with that amount of people and the worsening conditions, the wait time turned from a nice time to rest and look around at the spectacular surroundings, to a hypothermia inducing death march …a countdown to which toes I would still be able to move in the next half hour. How long are we up here for??
I’m generally a positive person but the frost was nipping at my patience and stamina. The rain pelted down…and the wind began to blow so the rainy sleet horizontally greeted us. we were constantly wringing out our gloves, and the desire to take a picture came down to a memory saved vs. pain decision. Even so, my fingers were so frozen i didn’t trust them to successfully execute the necessary motor skill of picture taking (…when we got off the glacier I couldn’t actually unzip my pack without concentrating every ounce of energy to my helplessly frozen fingertips). Miserable, awful, frozen and unhappy. At one point i figured I’d just put the pants on to get extra warmth…but with the crampons it was impossible.. Remember when I mentioned those whiny tourists?? Well…I did my best to keep my frozen pain to myself but it was getting all but unbearable. Luckily another man had also received wet boots to begin with (damn those wet boots!), was there to jokingly commiserate/compare stages of frostbite with.
And I did feel quite a bit better when we were finally on our way back to the warm, steamy bus, chatting with the guides and I overheard him say to another guide “my hands are seriously frozen…holy shit…that’s the coldest day I’ve had up there”. So ya…it was chilly…and unexpectedly so. But what I really want is for you to at least have a chuckle at my expense…that’s what these times are always good for…and I must revert back to my statement before: no matter how cold and unfortunate the weather was, I can say it was a most unique experience and I’m glad I had it…how often do you get to scramble all over a glacier?! Being up there was indeed like being on another planet. You just look out and see waves of frozen ice…ice moguls, crevices created a grid-like pattern that you wouldn’t want to get caught between. Little rivers swirling all around so that sometimes you go to take a step and think “jeez it sounds like there’s a waterfall right under my feet!” look down into the little hole, see some rushing water and realize there probably is a waterfall under there.
And the ice really does get that blue color…which is fascinatingly extraordinary. At one point we were waiting for a while in between a narrow crevice…just huge ice walls on both sides…pretty neat. And when I wasn’t mumbling “F*@#! my feet are cold!” I was wowing at the ice field we were climbing. So I did enjoy it…just in that freezing-my-ass-off kinda way. And somewhere after this time I got some weird blister things on my feet…probably from wearing wet socks shifting and slipping around in used boots moulded to the feet of about 1000 different people….but I can’t lie that for a few days i was half panickily convinced that I had frostbite…haha. On our hike back across the valley another crew of hikers were just setting off towards the glacier…and as I looked at their soggy appearances I just thought “poor souls” but they all looked perky and ready to go (probably didn’t start with wet boots…grrrr). But let me say that dry clothing, and warm feet (although I think this took a couple of hours) have never felt better…and what else was waiting for me but some nice, free vegetarian soup (3 days in a row?)!…Franz wasn’t so bad….
Fox Glacier, New Zealand
December 21, 2007
Ok…enough of the stupid puns…but seriously, this ice is way cooler than that speck floating in your cocktail: this ice lives as a very large chunk, streaming through the mountains. but before we fully dive into the cold of my own glacier stories i must provide a proper preamble. New Zealand has such a range of incredible natural wonders that it denotes them as you drive along. For instance, in Te Anau a sign welcomes you into “The Gateway to Fiordland” and as you drive up the coast you find a sudden entrance into “Glacier Country”…this place really does have it all. As we drove in, the environment was ever changing. Tussock grasses and rock-exposed mountains gave way to green mountains covered in lush rainforest, with the Tasman Sea following us along the left…the sight of waves crashing and the smell of salt in the air reminded me of home.
The amazing views graciously helped shift my attention from the mind-numbing commentary provided by our mic-happy bus driver. A very nice man who did have some informative things to say but when he rambled on for about 20 minutes (I kid you not) about the arrival and departure times of the coaches, the various uniforms of the bus companies I had had enough…more than enough as it turns out because when he must have run out of things to comment on (which I realized is actually impossible for this man) he reverted back to the time-table of the Intercity coaches and reviewed the whole frickin thing again! Buddy, I’d just like to sit back, stare out this window and zone into the beauty of your country without being informed of your uniform particulars and/or timetable specifics. We all managed to make it on board for this ride so I think we’ve got it. I had my headphones on full blast and could still unfortunately hear him droning on “…soo…at 5:45…now, it’s not 6…you must be out early blah blah…Did I mention that all our drivers wear ties yet?”. Anyone have a piece of fruit or small throwable item? Yeeah.
Back to the glaciers! within this glacier country are two main villages, Fox and Franz Josef. And as you would expect, each has its own complementing glacier of the same respective name. First along the road heading north (the only road, mind you) was Fox Glacier Village. Upon arrival to the tiny spattering of tourist need driven stores and the glacier guide office that has a gigantic sign in font suspiciously akin to the Twentieth Century Fox logo, I made my way to the hostel (another one for the curious name bank: Ivory Towers. Huh…the building is a hideous yellow…yellow, not even muted yellow, or off-white…just yeeeellow. there were no towers to speak of…it’s actually a very flat set of old trailer-like complexes. and lastly, it’s a hostel for god’s sake: Ivory Towers….haha. where are you staying? Whyyy…in the ivory towers of course. Oooh. yes…it’s 5 ½ stars). Anyway….after I checked into ivory towers (ha) I upped and outfitted to see this massive river of ice.
Access to the Fox glacier is only about a 10 minute drive by car but since all I have for transport are my own little legs I made a nice little trek out of it. as my butt had been plopped on that bus for half the day, it felt great to move my limbs in forward moving fashion, even if much of the walk was along the road,. The rainforest surrounding was enough to distract from the whishing cars that sped by. When I hit the first trail I figured I’d take it and started straight-off across an old suspension bridge that wiggled, wobbled and swayed as I carefully navigated across. The thing is not small…about 30 m across I’d say and only holds 5 people at a time if that says anything. On solid ground again i trekked on and up on a slight grade until i came to the first sight of the glacier whence upon i did a little skippy-step dance Wooooah…check that thing out! You see all the advertisements, postcards, etc with pictures of the glacier around the village but it looked so much more impressive in person. As things do i suppose…but it did take me by surprise…just the sheer size…wow.
After that my pace quickened, anxious for closer view. I had to cross a few streams and one that could debatably be called a river, at which point i barely scampered from rock to rock, praying i wouldn’t slip and go cascading down the glacial “stream”. I ran the rest of the way to the lookout (as the view of the glacier had been blocked since that first lookout) and arrived panting to a blue and white angularly slashed piece of ice. It looked incredible. like its own world of tunnels, crevices, and mountains all unto its icy self. Really did look like another planet….and for us i guess it is kind of like that. I quickly tried to take it all in and appreciate the sight before acquiring a new festival of red, itchy bites…yes, the shadflies were on attack against my warm-blooded body….little bastards…(as i’ve not so fondly come to term them…among other things). to avoid this fate i was off again! lightly jogging down the mountain path, stoked on my first glacier sight, and when the rain started pelting down i just happily trekked back to the hostel wet and smiling…knowing a cup of tea and a biscuit awaited my arrival…this kiwi lifestyle had gotten into me. And what a lovely thing that is.
Wanaka, New Zealand
December 19, 2007
So Wanaka is often compared to queenstown as a slightly less touristy, but just as adventurey stop in the southlands. Smaller, quainter but buzzing in its own way all the same. When the bus pulled up to the lakefront in Wanaka, which is exactly where the town sits, I couldn’t help feel drawn in by the place. It was a perfectly clear view and the snow-capped mountains could be seen like a theatre-set backdrop, encapsulating the scene across the shimmering lake. all this amidst the blue skies with the sun-shining wildly onto the whole scene. it may sound ridiculously contrived but I am honestly recounting this place as it is. And it did feel perfectly dreamlike, hence the description.
Unfortunately my hostel was set back from the lake so no view…and though not that far from the center of town, it was far enough to inspire an immediate dump-out-my-pack upon arrival in my new hostel. “right..what goes and what stays?!” and just like that I packed up a sack of unnecessary crap I’d been toting around for much too long and went to splurge in the post-office and send my burdensome loot across the seas. most normal people might trash unwanted clothing…but if you know me…I treasure my t-shirts like gold. So there they went, along with notebooks, cd’s, and an odd souvenir or two. Ahhh…much better. So let me reiterate the underlying message: travel lightly! Right. Wanaka! Another cute little town…again, a bit like a ski/surf town…good vibes and a beautiful setting. Great just watching people in and around the lake…everyone up and about.
But the main event here for me, the excitement I experienced involved slinging myself over rock faces (ropes attached of course), jumping off rocks, sliding down rocks (like an all-natural water-slide), and scrambling over yet more massive rocks! The title to all this fun is “canyoning” and let me tell you…it’s damn fun. once I heard of this possible excursion I signed on immediately (thank you bro’s and sis in-laws for the b-day gifts!!) and was off the next day bumping along an “unsealed road” which is of course paved by loose rock and pebbles and requires a bit of jumbling for all passengers. i love that in New Zealand they often refer to their roads as “sealed” because there are still so many dirt/stone roads around. Distracted by the incredible view of Mt. Aspiring in the distance and the gorgeous day that it was, the guides pointed out the canyon on the side of the mountain that we would soon be sloshing around in…and all I could see was a tiny line of trees that would go completely unnoticed to anyone really. that’s it?? a tiny little random tree line??
From a distance…it is nothing exciting if you don’t know what to look for…in fact…it’s an insignificant speck of trees among the mountainous valley. But once we hiked up the side of this mountain (you must first go up to come down of course. to much the dismay of the less-active in the group) and tucked in the canyon, we were introduced to a completely different world…hidden within this unsuspecting line of trees was an incredible work of nature…and as the guides explained…the only way to experience such a place is to go canyoning (of course they have to sell it ha…but how right they are). We fully covered ourselves in neoprene, strapped on a helmet, a harness, and were quickly on our way to looking like pros. Of course it was solely that: an illusion…we did a couple of training bits before hitting the first abseil (like rappelling…i.e. the going-down bit of a mountain climb)…and when it was my turn I thought…what? Now? Right now? I’m not even ready? I don’t know what I’m doing! I can’t really go over that cliff, stand perpendicular to the rock face and walk down with water spilling down my face!
Of course I did, and of course I slipped and smacked into the rock (hence helmets and tons of padding…was just getting in touch with nature of course…a bit too literally), and of course the look of panic on my face immediately disappeared when I jumped into the pool of water below and was replaced by a massive smile. Rush of the first descent! And that’s what it’s all about…pushing beyond your comfort zone…once you’ve done it…you crave the feeling…adrenaline addiction? It’s healthy. I promise. Do things you’d never think of before. Like going head-first down a tiny, crooked shoot with water gushing down, only half-happy to know you’ll be spit out the other end into a pool, of yet more water…again…head and face first. Hahaha…can I do it again?! One of the head-first encounters basically is just a sheer little cliff…so you shimmy yourself like a seal, stomach first, along the rock…until gravity takes over…and you go hurdling straight-down the rockface and then, shwoop, rock no more…and you go plunking in the water. And plunking is better than smacking…ow. Nah…so awesome.
I could go on forever about each and every moment of this day cause it was just so unique and so cool and so much earthy fun! But I’ll spare you the high-school sounding excitement (sooo neato!) and give just a couple more little adventures of the day (sorry mum) (and I thought this would be the short blog…I’m trying). One abseil was right next to a waterfall and all the way down you could see the rainbows created by the sun coming through all the mist of the falls. What a day. And some of the slides were so fast that you’d be put you on a safety line so before you go flying out of control, into a sharp rock and such, the guide would tug you back…and eventually you get to the end of the safety line and go flying into the pool below. One of my favorites was a falls that was so steep you couldn’t actually go down using your feet…so we abseiled about 10 feet down, then had to turn around, sit on our bums, and from there it’s like a vertical water-slide, and you control the speed by your rope….so everyone pretty much went soaring down…and I took a weird turn and ended up right IN the falls at the end…was so cool. a natural waterslide…straight down!
At the end of the day we were introduced to a little surprise…the flying fox. this is a pulley-line that spans across the canyon. We came into the canyon on one side and came out on the other…how else were we going to get across?? heh. Once I was hooked in, I just took a big leap and flew across “wooo”ing the whole while…what fun. canyoning was the main event at this stop, besides a little day walk along Lake Wanaka and I’m sure you’re not really too interested in my meals, and sleep cycles so I’ll let you get back to your emails.