Total civilisation to nothingness...
Worth a little mention, before we got to Queenstown we stopped off at a spot called the Chasm, a huge cavernous network of caves and blowholes which was quite something. The car park believe it or not though was the real highlight, offering the best views of the snow capped mountains yet.
Queenstown was a blast I must say. It was great to geat out of the van and the endless empty roads into some hustle and bustle. I loved Queenstown. We wandered the city eating good food, drinking loads of beer, shopping and generally lapping up the backpacker atmosphere. There's so much to do. One of the highlights for me was the luge from the top of the cable car drop off. Its a wild ride down some crazy bends at crazy speeds. The little go kart like luges are great fun. Definitely worth a try if you ever visit QT.
What else to note... oh yes, if you're a burger fan (which I am) Fergburger is without a shadow of a doubt the best burger bar in the world. The only other thing worth a mention was that we had planned to do a tandem hang-glide from the Remarkables. We got in a bus to the mountain top but unfortunately the wind was too strong and the instructor cancelled. Shame (but I was rejoicing inside )
From Queenstown we made our way to the Haast region where our destination is to be Fox Glacier. If all goes to plan, we should be standing on the glacier for Neeta's birthday. On the way to Haast we need to pass through Wanaka and I decide (much to the initial dismay of Neet) that I will pick up a hitchiker who is trying to get to Wanaka. He looks harmless, his name is Damien from Holland. He's been working at farms to pay his way around Nz. Sounds like a crazy way to travel but he swears by it saying its the only way to see the real Nz. Seems to me it's the only way to see thousands of sheep, but what do I know. I found it a rewarding experience picking up a hitcher. I did a good deed for the day, met a new friend and learnt a bit about other ways people choose to travel. I'm determined to do it again somewhere along the way. Neet is not convinced...
We get to Wanaka and the lake is simply stunnig. One of my absolute favourites so far.
It's short lived though as we need to hot foot it towards the Haast pass before it gets dark. The pass while short is known to be particularly treacherous in bad weather and after the gut wrenching fear of Milford, I would like to avoid any more trouser browning. There's not much you can say about the Haast region except that it is the most beautiful place in the world. Every corner turned reveals another jaw dropping vista. A stop along the way at Thundercreek falls is a treat, I am amazed at how close you can get to the waterfall. If it wasn't so cold I would have jumped right under it.
After a long but fantastically scenic drive we finally arrive at Fox Glacier, a tiny stretch of road dotted with cafes and bars and of course the tour operators is our first stop. We enquire about getting on a tour tomorrow for Neets birthday. We have decided that we are very unlikely ever to see a Glacier again so we will splash out on this experience. We get the super duper package which gives us a private guide and all day on the Glacier, Ice Climbing and two helicopter rides including a snow landing near the top of Mount Cook. We get some much needed rest then begin our icy adventure early the next day.
So first of all a very happy birthday to Neet! This I imagine will be one she wont soon forget. We get introduced to our guide James in the morning who will be instructing us on the Ice Climbing side and making sure we dont die. He'll also be guiding us around the Glacier. Because we are taking a helicopter up we get to spend the day on a part of the Glacier that people dont normally see. Hikers have to walk 6 hours before spending a couple of hours near the base of the glacier. We get to zoom straight up and spend all day enjoying this amazing natural wonder.
We get kitted out first with our humoungous ice boots, crampons and ice axes for climbing. We then jump intoa bus that takes us to the helicopter. It's our first time in a helicopter and I quite like it despite my general distaste for flying. It's a much more comfortable experience going straight up as opposed to a long running take-off. The views are breathtaking. I am so overwhelmed by this place I can feel the lump in my throat fighting to jump out, my eyes are welling. This is unlike anything I've ever seen in my life. The feeling when you first catch a glimpse of fox is undescribable, and to think, we'll be landing on it any minute! The helicopter touches down, and all of a sudden it hits us. We're on a Glacier! A massive body of ice that is moving at a blinding rate of 1 meter per day, carving ino the rocky mountains either side of it. the Ice is over 200 meters deep and a fresh batch of snow last night has made it all the more beautiful. I just cant believe that this is our life, I look up and say a quick thanks to mum, without her we'd never have got here...
The day is awesome, actually awesome is a ridiculous understatement. It seems weird to say but this is actually the best day of our lives. Nothing could ever come close to this. James takes us on a little hike first, we marvel at the alien landscape, the need to dig the crampons into the ice to be able to walk. We pass amazing little caves of ice, a brilliant shade of ice-blue on the inside. We have to have a go so we slide through it giggling and shrieking like school children in a park! Soon we get to the first ice wall where James teaches us the basics of ice-climbing. It's a tiny wall, no more than 10 meters to get us started. Neet goes first and she does amazingly well, picking up the tricky technique almost instantly. It takes me a little longer to get used to but after a while I'm away and feel a sense of accomplishment having made it to the top of an albeit comically short wall.
A bit more walking and its time for lunch. We made some sandwiches, but not enough, nevertheless it is a picnic to remember. Sitting on a Glacier in the middle of a towering valley, the Tasman Sea in the distance. James has been a star and has called in for a helicopter to drop off a couple of beers for us! What an amazing thing to do! We drink helicopter beers in the ice, I dig a little hole with my pick and hey presto! Instant Glacier refrigeration! This is the life!
After Lunch we tackle an altogether bigger wall! A monster for us at 50 meters, but James has confidence in our ability, why exactly I am unsure In all fairness to Neet, she is phenomenal. She has some difficult parts but makes it up to the top with grace and poise. I on the other hand scramble up, slipping off several times and in other moments, find myself hanging limp by my axes like a drunk spiderman. I do however make it to the top but it takes me about twice as long as Neet. Whilst I may not be the best ice climber out there I am so proud of myself, taking on something completely unknown and giving it my best shot.
As for Neeta, she totally blew me away today. She could be described as a bit of a scaredy cat at times, a delicate flower perhaps a better way of phrasing it, but today all her fears seemed to dissolve in a pool of determination and force. Well done sweetheart, and Happy Birthday!!!!