Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Foul and the Fair

First, it rained for a month in Sydney.  And then I walked.

I walked down to Lake Tekapo when I stopped for lunch between Christchurch and Mount Cook.  It was shortly after the mountains had appeared out of nowhere.  The snowy peaks were still far in the distance, but it was getting colder.

I arrived at Mt. Cook National Park in the late afternoon, ditched the car, and walked to Hooker Valley Lake.  One of the great things about New Zealand is that being so far south, the sun doesn’t set till almost 10pm.  This means you can start a three-hour hike at 5pm without feeling stupid about not owning a functioning flashlight.  I kept getting to 5 or 6pm and feeling like I’d been given a gift – an bonus four hours of daylight to fill!

And what better way to fill them than by walking.  The next day started with a kayaking trip on the Tasman Glacial Sea.  It was a misty morning and the mountaintops were masked by dense clouds.  The thermometer in my car read 10˚ C, but it felt colder on the lake.  The water was right at the freezing point and was dotted with icebergs.  The bigger ones were the colour of antifreeze and the small clumps of ice floating around were perfectly clear.  Apparently, this is a benefit of doing the trip on a cloudy day – in bright sunlight, they all look white. We collected some chunks of ice to bring back to shore and have in recovery whiskey because in New Zealand, that’s how you roll.

I was thoroughly frozen by the end and had to stop in the lodge for a hot chocolate before I carried on with my afternoon’s activity.  This was the Kea Point walk, which takes you to a look-out over the Mueller Glacier. The shallow pools at the bottom were bright blue, while the lake itself was the same murky blue-green-grey of water you’ve rinsed a paintbrush in. 

By the end of that walk, I was into my bonus hours and decided to try another walk that the man in the visitors’ centre had suggested the day before.  It’s called the Red Tarns after a weed that grows in the pond at the top, remarkable because that particular weed is not normally found at such a high elevation.

And about that high elevation.  The man had said something about ‘steep climb’, but I’d been distracted by the bit about the amazing views.  I got to stair approximately 600 out of 1300, realised I was not yet half-way, and remembered that the only stairs I climb on a regular basis are the ones at the train station, and that’s only on Monday when I buy my weekly railpass.  I despaired a little bit.  Then I came upon a couple of women resting on one of the steps.  The thought of being passed by a pair of middle-aged, chicken-legged tourists was more than I could bear, so I sucked up the pain and staggered on.  By the end, there were glaciers on the next mountain over that were lower than I was.  But the view was fantastic!

The sun came out the next day and I drove on to Makarora and the Blue Valley walk.  A couple hours up a forested and sometimes difficult to follow mountain trail, and I emerged at a rocky river that snaked off through the valley.  This would have been a great opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, but I’m not into that sort of thing.  Instead, I kicked off my shoes, waded through the freezing water and climbed rocks for a while.  Partway along the return trail I started to wonder if perhaps a bit of a rest might have been the wiser option, but too late now, said my hungry belly, and on I went.

I arrived in Wanaka the afternoon of the 1st, and decided to do just a light walk so as to make it back to town in time for the 5:45 showing of The Adventures of Tintin at Cinema Paradiso.  Mt. Iron really wasn’t as bad as its name suggests, even if it was a bit of a scorcher that day – I broke a sweat and wasn’t even wearing any wool!  I made it back in plenty of time for the movie, which I enjoyed profusely, partly because it’s Tintin, partly because the cinema is this awesome place with old couches instead of traditional movie seats, partly because my shoes and I needed some time apart, and partly because of the giant homemade cookies they pulled out of the oven during the intermission.  A lot of it had to do with the cookies, actually.

On my way to Queenstown the next day, I spent a few hours wandering around Arrowtown, an old mining village not unlike Niagara-on-the-Lake in character.  The sun was shining and it was the perfect morning for a stroll about town, some scones and tea at the café, and a leisurely wander down the Arrow River.

Finally, it was on to Queenstown.  It’s a holiday city, full of cafes, restaurants and camping gear shops, and on a summer’s morning the whole place smells like bacon.  I decided to explore the city gardens as the sun was setting the first night and save the walk up Observatory Hill for the next morning.

It was a short, 45-minute walk according to the lady at the hostel, and a nice and relaxing walk with only a gentle incline, according to the guidebook.  Both failed to mention the walk from the city centre to the start of the trail, which was actually steeper than the trail itself.  It took some cajoling of my poor aching feet, but I eventually made it up to the top of the hill and saw the beautiful landscape surrounding Queenstown.

And that was the end.  I flew up to Christchurch and then back to Sydney the next day, if you can call a 6:30am flight “day”.  I arrived home in a slightly feral state following all my exertions.  These were another matter.

I assure you, you have never smelled anything as rank as a pair of shoes that were well-worn to begin with, then spent a month wet and festering in the Sydney rain before being made to carry a pair of sweaty feet up and down mountains for a week.  I told the guys at customs that yes, I’d been using them in wilderness areas overseas, and kind of hoped that they’d confiscate them, but no such luck.  I’m not sure what to do with them now.  I mean, a person can't wear something that's as feral as these shoes are.  What if I’m in an accident and have to be rushed to the hospital?  The doctors will think I’m either a hobo or suffering from gangrene.  Thank God it’s flip-flop weather, is all I can say.

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