Friday, May 27, 2005


I hope you're all sitting comfortably 'cos this could be a long post!
In the middle of April we took a few days holiday and extended the southerly limit of our travels, making it as far as Queenstown. The main purpose of our trip was to use one of our Christmas presents, a voucher for a heli-hike on Fox Glacier. A family friend was visiting New Zealand and a visit to the glaciers was part of her itinery so we decided we'd go together. We set off for the West coast on the Monday morning to clear skies & sunshine. This is not unusual here at this time of year but whenever we've reached the top of Arthur's Pass the cloud has come down and it's been pouring with rain so weren't that hopeful. However, on this occasion, the weather was glorious all the way to the West coast allowing Sarah stunning views of the mountains and the sea. We also mananged to reach the Devil's Punchbowl waterfall. Access to this had been closed until recently as they were improving the path due to a number of accidents & at least one fatality. As we walked along the newly constructed walkway above the old path we wondered how anybody had made it safely. It was stunning and we took pictures but they don't really capture it - you'll have to come & see them for yourself!.
On the coast, we briefly stopped in Hokitika before driving on to the hostel for the night. The scenery is much different on the west of the island, more like rainforest, which is quite stunning but we all agreed that the whole place just seemed increbibly remote and not a place we'd want to stay long (we do seem to have offended a few people with this opinion but maybe, as Kiwis, they are more used to be isolated...).
As the sun set the cloud rolled in from the South and we weren't sure what that would mean for our 9am heli-hike the following day. They can cancel the flights up to 10 minutes before you leave so you really have to wait & see. I was concerned that we'd be stuck there waiting for the weather to clear - it isn't as though we could just pop to the next ytown & come back the following day - the next town on our trip (being brutally honest, the next town worth stopping in for more than a toilet break) is 5 hours drive away!
Anyway, we spent the night in the Chateau Franz youth hostel in Franz Josef which was very comfortable and, although fully booked didn't seem too crowded. We went for a drink in a local pub and it's one of the only places we've been in that has character - though Neil & I realised we really haven't been out all that much but then realised that's because there really isn't anywhere to go! [This is a little aside but, after one particular busy evening, we decided to grab a take-away in Rangiora (which is a large town in New Zealand). At 9.45 pm there was not one place we could get food of any description - have we just been used to inner city Sheffield for too long? I don't think so!]
Back to the story...We woke up on Tuesday morning to see that the cloud had lifted and we could actually see the mountains around the glacier, hallelujah! We drove the 20 minutes to Fox Glacier (there are also guides on Franz Josef Glacier - tour guides say to do both, maybe next time!). and then The Alpine Glacier Tour company took us by bus to the helicopter. The three of us were like giddy kids! None of us had been in a helicopter and we couldn't discern whether we were excited or nervous. Well, we all agreed it was one of the best experiences we've ever had. Sarah & I sat in the front next to the pilot (it's encouraging to know that you're the lightest in the group!) and had awesome views as we flew over the 'nose' of the glacier (there is probably a better technical expression). It's really quite indescribable - all I can say is, if you ever get the chance you must take it. We landed on teh glacier itslef and tentatively scuffed our way to a gathering point about 10 metres from where the helicopter landed. When everyone had arrived we were given instructions on how to use cramp-ons effectively and the warnings of how not to stray from the path the guide hacks out with his ice-pick or you're likely to end up down a crevasse. Sobering thought. Most people in our group were pretty confident as we walked across the glacier, a 10 year old boy particularly so as he decided he wanted to pursue another path across the ice and nearly led us all down a crevasse (he actually reminded me a lot of my brother when he was younger...). Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed over 2 hours of hiking across the ice, crawling through ice tunnels (absolutely freezing, you're shaking so much you can't control your limbs but the most spectacular colours) and caves and every now and again looking up and marvelling at the fact you are walking on a glacier. I remembered many of my geography lessons but it looked so different to the diagrams & pictures we'd studied - now the glaciers are long gone in North Wales the field trips don't really give the same experience.
By the time the helicopters came to pick us up we were beginning to feel the cold as the cloud had returned and the sun had disappeared - we were really blessed with the weather because the next trip was probably going to have to be cut short or they may not have been able to get back off the mountain. By the time we got back to our car it was pouring with rain and it did so the whole way to Wanaka - about 5 hours! At least we were driving through rainforest so we saw it at it's best!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Still Here!

We're sorry we've not been very communicative but we are still here! It's one of those "so much to write I don't know where to start so will leave it yet another day/week/month until I can face it!" Well, here is the start.
March was quite a busy month; church stuff in full swing and deepening friendships. We've realised over the last couple of weeks that we talk about seeing 'friends' now as opposed to merely people who we don't have an emotional attachment to. That seems a development in terms of settling in though still do feel horribly homesick from time to time.
The major event of March was 'Easter Camp' - a Christian camp over the Easter weekend that we took 8 of our youth to so they could join with the other 2,500 teenagers in having lots of fun & not very much sleep! The weather, which had been gorgeous for the majority of the month, changed on the Thursday but the rain was a blessing in that it softened the ground enough for tent pegs but didn't turn the whole site into a swamp (unlike the previous year when they had to send people home!). It did rain on & off for the rest of the weekend but not enough to spoil the fun. Our kids were pretty well behaved and their wildly differing personalities meant they got very different things out of the whole experience. We managed to sleep well once the campsite was quiet (about 1am which I didn't think was actually that bad) and it wasn't too cold but 4 nights camping in the middle of autumn did take its toll on the group with nearly everyone having to have time off school/work in the following week to recover from colds etc.