30 August 2010: Mt. Aspiring & Mt. Cook National Parks
Monday was a 16 hour day, the first 3 of which involved Gabe taking a chilly dip into Lake Wakatipu and the fearsome trio climbing a mountain... all before 10 a.m. This was followed by 11.5 hours in faithful Sunny.
6:45 a.m. - Erika gets up & showers.
7:05 a.m. - Erika wakes Gabe so he can mentally prepare.
7:10 a.m. - Erika wakes Sarah so she can see Gabe make a fool of himself.
7:15 a.m. - Erika and Sarah document Gabe as he crosses the road by the hostel, getting several honks as he does so, to jump into the freezing lake, while the sun is still coming up.
7:15 - 7:20 a.m. - Gabe has to quickly wade into the water (lack of a dock to jump.. damn), do a dolphin dive underwater, and hurry out (to more honks), as we run back inside.
Ooo nippy... Gabe, you crazy
7:30 a.m. - We are all packed, Gabe has de-thawed in the shower, in time for breakfast in the hostel kitchen (yep, you guessed it - more toast!!)
We decided to say a final, aerial goodbye to Queenstown by climbing the mountain. It was about an hour hike, and I must say, I am VERY out of shape. Highlights include seeing a rainbow across the lake, the view from the top, and sneaking onto the gondola to get a free ride down, despite Erika's morbid fear of these hanging metal death traps.
Halfway up; spy the pretty rainbow:View from the top:
Erika was not too happy about our gondola decision:
Gabe and I were haha:
We were down the mountain and back on the road by 10. Our final destination consisted of the Franz Josef & Fox glaciers on the way to Greymouth, a small town on the mid-west coast, near the mountain pass, which we would take east back to Christchurch and its airport, the following afternoon. However, we discovered so many amazing sights along the way that the glaciers ended up being mediocre in comparison to the rest of the drive.
First, our journey took us north, on the Cardrona Valley Road, which passed by several ski fields, through dense fog and high, rolling hills covered with round, orangeish shrubbery and sprinkled snow, reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss landscape. Next, we emerged to a section of winding mountain roads, which hugged the lakeside cliffs of, Lake Hawea, and then Lake Wanaka.
We stopped in Lake Wanaka for a toilet break and to play on this amazing (slightly dangerous) playground:
A few minutes after leaving the park, we saw this on the side of the road and HAD to stop for a photo op. It is outside of the Wanaka Puzzle Land (a family fun centre, full of mazes and illusions):Next, we entered the Mt. Aspiring National Park, en route to the coast, which turned out to be a beautiful rainforesty surprise, where we discovered this vivid, rainbow-waterfall (I will admit, I enhanced the photo a bit so you can see it):
Gabe chillin' on a rock in the frigid creek (no swimming this time...):
While driving around the twisty mountain turns of the forest road, we kept seeing cattle stops, which stop herds from crossing the road AND we came across something a bit more unusual - a "runaway vehicle ramp" (aka if your breaks give out on this huge hill, you make a ditch effort to the left, up this natural, sand-filled ramp on the side of the mountain that stops your out-of-control car).
Also, we started taking note of the kajillion creeks, streams and culverts we passed while driving through both national parks, which numbered well into the 7,000s (a number and name is posted by each creek).
Some of the best names we saw:
Dicks Creek, Dismal Creek, Chink Creek, Random Creek, & The Windbag
As we continued through the forest, with new sights around every corner, we suddenly emerged into a giant valley, where the river widened into a beach-like basin. It was a gorgeous day and we couldn't help stopping on the side of the road to adventure out onto this hidden beach in the middle of the mountains. The surrounding hills acted as a wind tunnel, making it seem like we had exited winter to find a bright and blustery summer's day!
Frolicking, running on the river bank:
Erika doing a graceful leap (yes, she's a dancer):
Woo hoo, our star-jumps (we are not):We took a lunch/snack break before continuing on.
Gabe having some marmite on bread (of course) and being crafty (he's using a rock as a spreading instrument... we had no knives):
Half an hour later, we passed through the town of Haast and saw a sign for "Haast Beach." Indulging our adventurous natures, we made a sharp, last-second turn down the road and arrived at paradise. Now winter and summer had officially merged; where else can you see a summer beach, set against a wintery, snow-covered mountain backdrop?
Some choice photos:
Our "Titanic" shot, how romantic:
Awww...favourites:After our second, unexpected beach ADVENTURE, we continued on toward the Mt. Cook National Park and finally arrived at the Fox glacier around 4:30 p.m. From the car park, you can see the glacier, which appears to be a short walk across a dry, rock-filled river basin away. Silly us, we thought the sign saying "1 hr return" to the glacier face referred to a different hike nearby, not this "short" stroll... we were wrong (note to self: I cannot judge distance). Anyway, half an hour later, we got to the end of the glacier walk, which still ended a good ways away from the actual ice. Unfortunately, to actually experience either of the glaciers up close, you must sign up/pay for a guided expedition, which we decided not to do. Regardless, we had a nice little walk, got some photos, and were struck by the extreme size of this pure wonder of nature. Driving into the park, there are signs marking the road, indicating where the glacier was in 1750 and 1930 - to show how much the ice has receded (global warming up close and personal). The 1750 one is a good 10 minute drive away from the car park.
The mountain you can see behind the glacier is actually the famous Mt. Cook (we realized this later):
A kea bird, stalking poor Sunny.
Fun fact: These native New Zealand birds have become pests, show no fear of tourists, little inhibitions, and have been known to tear the rubber from car windows. There are signs in most of the national park car parks warning against feeding the keas.
Around 5:30 p.m. we made it back to Sunny, thankfully unharmed by the devil kea birds, and continued driving toward the other glacier, Franz Josef. By the time we reached it, the sun was sinking behind the mountains. We walked the twisting, 15 minute rainforest pathway to the glacier vista, took in the sight, but decided not to try to trek all the way to the glacier face once again (after all, we had already climbed a mountain that morning... sheesh). Plus, Erika, a definite trooper, had come down with a cold the day before and wasn't feeling too hot after our long, adventurous day.
We refueled on petrol and kept driving toward Greymouth, still a good 250 km away (2.5+ hours). Highlights from the rest of the drive include our epic brainstorming session of a plan for the following morning (we tossed around a range of ideas, from horseback riding to kayaking, hot-tubbing and another brewery tour... sadly, only the last of which actually came to fruition). Also, we stopped for a bit to star gaze... that is, until we got creeped out, having just been discussing horror movies and axe-wielding psychos who prey on stupid motorists when they stop on deserted stretches of roadway (like that one). It is amazing how many stars are visible when there is zero light pollution. Throughout all of our time in the car during the past few days, we hardly passed any cars, compared to how many you would see in any part of the U.S. or down here during the more touristy season.
Two lovely shots of the setting sun as we made our way to our final destination, after a long day of driving, good road trip music, and excellent company :):
We reached our hostel at 9:30, had a very late dinner, and wrapped up the evening with a quick e-mail check and lounging in the adorable living room, where I dueled Gabe at backgammon (and won...though to be fair, it was his first game and he was ruthless).