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Jon’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 15 Mar 2006

Location: West Coast, New Zealand

MapSo the three day expedition really turned out to be a five day thrill as we travelled west on Thursday and arrived back home Tuesday night. The first night Jim and I travelled to a place called Cronwell. Where we arrived after sunset to set up camp for the night on Lake Dunstin. Waking up in the morning to gale force winds and having our tent almost blow into the lake we soon discovered the fastest way to take down the tent. Later that day we travelled to a place called Wanaka where we climbed Mt. Iron. This mountain overlooked Wanaka (where Shania Twain lives) and a beautiful 360 view of the surrounding area. After the great hike we travelled to our first destination point Fox Glacier, where we arrived in pouring rain. Fox Glacier on average gets 6 meters of rainfall a year. So at this point we thought we would be climbing the glacier in pouring rain. Just as we were to set up our tent for the night it stopped raining. Beauty! The clouds were to dense to see what we were surrounded by. As the night grew to a close we could start to see the massive mountains that were right in front of us, and eventually we could see the glacier that we were going to take on the next day.
Woke up to sunshine Saturday morning, revealing the glacier, and as luck would have it, we were in a tourist lookout spot with a bus of 50 people coming past in the morning to check out the glacier from a distance.
Now Fox Glacier is a massive formation of ice that has been formed over thousands of years, which continues to move down the mountain at a rate of 3 meters a day. Ice continually breaks off and is quite dangerous if you don't have someone with you that knows what they are doing. Our guide that day was a 60 year old man (Graham) that did this just for fun. The climb started in a rain forest, then as we approached the glacier we had to through crampons onto the bottoms of our boots, and were provided alpin stocks (walking sticks with a metal spike on the bottom) which just added a little balance on the hike. The glacier hike was amazing as we checked out ice tunnels, small ice caves, crevasses (in the ice where two huge chunks of glacier would split). The guide informed us that the guides were dieing faster then they could be replaced. This brought comfort to me knowing how safe we really were. You just had to be aware of the dangers like falling into these crevasses or watching out for falling chunks of ice. We were on the glacier for 7 hours that day as Graham kept on wanting to explore farther which was okay with us. We only got a small amount of rain at the end, which was great! That night we travelled to Queenstown (5 hour drive).
We arrived in Queenstown late and exhausted after climbing the Fox earlier that day. There was no where to set up our tent that night so we decided that we would just sleep in the car as we only had a few hours before we were to get up.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world where you can do anything from Bungee jump (where it was invented), skydive, heliski, helibike (where they fly you to the top of the mountain and you get to ride down on a mountain bike), gorge jump, hang-glide, whitewater raft, sea kayaking, street luge etc. Basically you think up something extreme and Queenstown will build it. North of Queenstown is where most of Lord of the Rings was filmed. Now watching it over I can recognize some of the places that we saw on our travels.
We decided to try our luck on the Shotover river, whitewater rafting. Only ever rafting once on the Ottawa river, we thought this would be a good thrill. The drive out there was amazing as we passed through the mountains. The road was a one way, small and windy road that dropped off 1500 meters. This road was all part of the danger as we were no more then foot away from the edge where it dropped down into the valley bottom. In one spot of the road it had actually fallen out a few years earlier and they repaired it with mud and bricks. The rafting was good fun but the water level was down in the river making it a level 3 to 4 (level 5 being the highest, level 6 our guide told us is unsafe and your raft would definitely flip and would probably get taken under by the current and you would never see Queenstown again). The river was narrow, quick and had a very strong current. We almost fell out once as we got stuck up on a rock so we all pushed to the front of the raft as we were getting dumped on by all this water but after that long and exhilarating minute we broke free and were out of what they called the "toilet". The coolest part of the rafting was when we entered into this dark cave that was approx. half a kilometer, where we rafted through it having to duck down because of the low ceiling. At the end of the tunnel there was this huge drop off where the river ended as we had to hang on to the ropes of the raft for dear life. The drop was about 2 meters high and soaked Jim and I as we sat in the front of the raft. Two thumbs up for rafting and I would definitely suggest trying out whitewater rafting if you've never tried it before. The Ottawa is just as good and it's in our back yard. In high water the Ottawa is a level 4 rapid with parts of it at a level 5! That night we travelled on to Milford Sound, home of huge mountains that emerge from the sea. That night we arrived to Milford setting up our tent in the rain forest. Milford Sound is this beautiful place on the West Coast of New Zealand where you can take cruises, boat trips, hikes around the mountains, and kayak tours. We signed up for the kayaking. Now "Sound" means the mountains were formed by water, and "Fiord" means glaciers formed the mountains. Milford Sound was miss named early on and should really be called Milford Fiord as glaciers formed this beautiful place. We kayaked that day for about 6 hours. These massive mountains stuck out as high as 2500 meters and had thousands of small and big waterfalls coming down all around us as we kayaked around these fiords. You would see a waterfall in the distance and you would want to go check it out and think it was only a 10 minute paddle which in reality it was 14 km away and would have taken you 2 hours to get to, but that was just the illusion the mountains gave you as they were so big. We stopped for some hot drinks to warm us up as it was quite cool that morning and Jim was in a panic and I quickly found out that he had dumped his camera in the lake. At this point he was extremely disappointed as it had all the photos of our trip on his camera and now they were gone. So we travelled back to where we had just came from and spent a good half an hour looking for his camera hoping that it might float. We didn't find it until on our way back to the group we saw something floating in the water and sure enough it was his camera. Luckily we were able to salvage his pictures but I think his camera has seen better days as it has went to camera heaven! On the way back the wind picked up and there were 3 foot swells on the water which made us a wee bit nervous. Our guide told us to just watch out that you don't turn your boat sideways and you'll be fine. Well I was steering at the back (the back person has to control the boat by his feet underneath), and well I forgot to steer and sure enough our boat was turned completely sideways. At this point I figured we were going for a swim which you wouldn't of wanted to do because it's a lot of work to get back in the boat, especially with waves as big as they were. Luckily my feet started working and I got our boat turned straight and we sailed out of there like pros. Our guide said to us afterwards it would have made his day to see us flip it. He said no one has flipped a boat in a few years. All it takes is a few Canucks to break the record and we would have been legends!
The trip we took was incredible! Seeing so much beautiful country, challenging ourselves to take risks, and packing so much into such a small amount of time. Mission complete. New Zealand is beautiful but we have much of this in our home country it's just spread out over a larger area. We travelled 2000 km in 5 days. I think that's a pretty good track record!