Day 362: Signpost

Signpost

Some I’ve been to, some I hope one day to visit.

Day 113: Warning Sign

Warning Sign

I miss Australia.

Day 99: Transit

Transit

Day 98: No Trolleys

No Trolleys

Makes sense if you say “trolley” instead of “shopping cart.”

Closing Chapter 1 of My 2008 Travels

Monday, March 10, we woke up early to trek around Lake Matheson in the stillness of the morning before driving to Franz Josef where David and I did the three-quarters day hike while the rest of the family did the easier half-day hike at Fox Glacier. The hardest part of the day was actually when our group had to climb up and over part of the mountain. It was so steep in some points that they had installed ladders. Our guide told us the route was fairly new because until recently the river had been flowing on the other side of the valley and they had been able to simply walk around the hill. The river changed course and they were forced to find another path to the Franz Josef Glacier. When we arrived at the terminal face we pulled out our crampons and fitted them over our boots. Walking on the rocks wasn’t any easier, but when we started onto the glacier, the crampons made us feel extremely confident. I never slipped the whole trip thanks to the crampons. We wound our way through crevices, up stairs cut in the glacier, and even through a naturally-formed tunnel. We didn’t make it to the top of the enormous glacier, but we did make it high enough to view other people down the valley from where we had come scrambling around like ants. After our return David and I killed time in a bookstore until we were re-joined by the rest of the family. We stayed in a Holiday Park in Hokitika that night.

On Tuesday we stopped in at a jade store where we learned more about the iconic New Zealand green stone and see people hard at work polishing and making jewelry out of it. We took a scenic detour to drive partway to Arthur’s Pass before driving through Greymouth north along the coast to the Pancake Rocks. While many people think the pancake rocks are a bunch of large, flat, pancake-like rocks, they are actually large formations of rocks that are all sandwiched together forming many thin layers. The rock formations aren’t the only attraction. High tide can create swells that force water through blow holes, creating a whooshing noise and shooting spray up like a geyser. That night we stayed at the Beach Backpackers in Punakaiki, in view of the pancake rocks. It was a great place and we met a number neat people.

We struck out on Wednesday for Motueka, which is situated close to the Abel Tasman National Park, stopping along the way at the sea lion breeding grounds which we found not as interesting as the smaller colony we were able to observe from a closer distance on the east coast. We took our time driving and when we arrived in Motueka we bought supplies and made our own dinner before turning in early.

On Thursday we went sea kayaking, making a stop at the highly-photographed Split-Apple Rock. We make use a long zip-line near the beach before heading back to Motueka where we spent the afternoon reading and resting before cooking dinner again.

Friday we drove to Abel Tasman National park and spent a couple hours hiking (or tramping as they call it here in New Zealand) before driving to Nelson and checking into the Holiday Park where we again saved money by making dinner.

On Saturday we went to the Nelson Market, which is a hodgepodge of vendors selling their various wares from clothes and toys to delicious organic fruits and vegetables. Before we had been there ten minutes we ran into the Smith family who had had us over for dinner a couple weeks prior! That afternoon we ran into them again at the park that was to be our landing site for hang gliding. From the park Catharine and I, the first two flyers, rode up the hill with the two instructors we would be flying tandem with and the driver who was shuttling us. When we got to the top we were met with a stunning view of Nelson and the surrounding area at low tide. We were fitted into our harnesses and each practicing running together with our respective instructors. I was paired with a guy named Glenn Meadows who was actually the head of the New Zealand Hang Gliding and ran a hang gliding school. We hooked in and waited for the wind to shift before running in unison down the hill until we were lifted off our feet and became airborne. Once we were off I reached down and placed my feet on a metal bar that was attached to my harness, allowing me to have something to rest my feet against while we were horizontal. I held on to two handles on Glen’s harness, while he held onto the A-frame and shifted our weights to pilot the hang glider. We rode the thermals for a little while then headed down the hill and came in for a fast, low landing in the grassy field, rolling to a stop. The air had heated up even more by the time my dad and David had their flights, so they were able to stay up longer. Hang gliding is such a surreal experience. With only the noise of the wind, it seems you are peacefully flying when in actuality the pilot often has to work hard to keep the big wing in the thermals to stay aloft. It was neat to look down and follow our shadow on the mountain below, over the pine trees and sheep-studded fields. That evening we explored downtown Nelson before eating at a Mexican food restaurant owned by an Indian man who had formerly been teaching culinary arts in the U.S. before moving to New Zealand less than a year ago. Strange combination, but the food at Go Mexico was good. We spent that night at the Bumble Backpackers, which was the only place that got a unanimous thumbs-down from us due to the poor facilities in combination with the other patrons whose noise we had to deal with during that long night.

On Sunday we scooted out of our hostel and attended the Reformed Church of Nelson before driving on to Picton to catch the ferry back across to the north island. We drove a short distance out of Wellington after landing and stayed in a holiday park in Upper Hutt.

On Monday we continued our journey north, stopping at some scenic spots along the way. That afternoon a rock kicked up by a passing truck hit the windshield of our rental van, causing a large crack. To ovoid having the rental company charge us some inflated fee to get it fixed after we turned it in, we chose to stop off in a small town and spend thirty minutes exploring a used bookstore while the crack was patched by an automotive shop. Earlier in our trip when we had dinner at the Smith’s house another family that was there too had invited us to stay in their home on our way back through. We took the van der Wee’s up on their gracious offer spent Monday night in their fantastic farm house, parts of which were over 100 years old!

Tuesday morning during breakfast we were told there had been a small earthquake the night before. All of us had slept so soundly that we hadn’t been awakened, but apparently the door knobs and such rattled during the tremor. We said our thanks to our wonderful hosts and struck out for Wanganui where we took a jet boat ride up the Wanganui River and then canoed back down, exploring some caves and side streams along the way. None of us flipped, but some of us took on a bit of water while shooting one set of rapids. We drove a number of kilometers out on a gravel road, just like we had on the way in from the other direction, and ate dinner at an overpriced motel because it was the only restaurant open at that hour. We spent the night at holiday park in Taumarunui.

On Wednesday we said farewell to New Zealand. New Zealand said farewell to us by charging us each a $25 “exit fee” which I think is a racket and makes New Zealand look bad. Our flight was delayed and when we finally did start to leave we had an aborted take off because there was some signal that a door was ajar or something. The end result was that we left over three hours late and ended up missing our connecting flight in Los Angeles. Qantas put us up in the Hilton and fed us well, so we didn’t have much to complain about.

Thursday evening we headed back to the airport to catch our final flight home. When checking our luggage the lady behind the counter said that the flight was overbooked by more than eleven people and that they were asking for volunteers to be bumped. I had to get home for a wedding, but the rest of my family decided to take the nice package and delay their homecoming another day. I didn’t make it home until close to three in the morning on Friday, and then left a couple hours later to drive to Alabama with some friends also going to our mutual friend’s wedding.

It was good to finally be home on Sunday, and by now I’m pretty much over my jet lag and caught up on sleep. Most people will tell you that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I’m inclined to agree. If you ever get a chance to go, jump on it. Feel free to ask me any questions too.

Copyright © 2007-2014 William Clayton