The adventures continue through the South Island…
(To see the beginning, check this out!)
Stop 4- Franz Josef Glacier - After a day of scenic travel on the TranzAlpine Train and subsequent bus, I was itching to get out and go for a hike. It's a common activity all over New Zealand where trails abound, but here the Kiwis seemed even more keen on it. I was even provided my own print out of all the paths when I checked in to my hotel. The hotel here in Franz Josef is notable because until now, I had been conserving money on the accommodations, but here I splurged. And man am I glad I did! A private patio in the rain forest, fire place, and jacuzzi tub. Ahh! Luxury compared to the squalor where I had been staying.
Franz Josef Glacier is a VERY fast moving glacier located in the middle of a rain forest. It moves up to 7 meters per day compared to average glaciers' movement of 1 meter per day. That makes for a very unstable terminal face, which is unsuitable/ unsafe for hiking and means the only way onto the ice is by helicopter. On the morning of my scheduled helihike, I woke to low clouds- the norm in the rain forest, and sadly prohibiting flight. The helihike cancellation put $400 bucks back in my pocket and opened up the opportunity to hike through the rain forest to the safety line some 250 meters away from the glacier face. A fine back-up plan in my opinion! It was about 5 hours in all for the round trip hike, 2 of which were pouring rain. I gladly warmed up next to my fire with a bottle of NZ bubbly when I was back to town!
This photo is particularly cool to me because next to where I was standing was a sign showing the exact location from 2008. The glacier, which has receded completely behind the mountain on the left, was still hugely visible, covering all the visible rock in this photo.
Stop 5- Queenstown- The Adventure Capital of the World lived up to it's name! This is the birthplace of bungy jumping. And fine by me if it dies there too.... You won't catch me jumping off a ledge anytime soon. Extreme adventure is around every corner. I think New Zealand's public healthcare helps promote the adventurism. With no one to sue for an injury, why not just one-up the adventure activity next door?! Wait a minute- there's that American in me coming out again! I chose Quad Biking (on the side of a mountain!), Riversurfing, and Canyoning to fill 2 days in Queenstown. Unfortunately, there's not a ton of photographic proof since I was busy not killing myself.
Quad biking was the least dangerous, but somehow I came closest to injury. Quad Bike is just what Kiwis call 4-Wheelers. I threw myself off the bike after hitting a rock on the way down the mountain. Fortunately, the bike didn't careen off the edge of the cliff. Nor did I. The guide didn't witness it, so no harm, no foul... and I continued on!
Riversurfing scared the bejesus outta me! Picture boogie boarding down grade 4 rapids and catching the waves by turning upstream. My poor guide didn't love how needy I was, or how much he had to help me get through the rapids. Really, it's his own fault for telling me that if I missed taking the left fork in the river after coming out of one of the rapids, I would die on the rocks in the right fork. Probably he was just trying to scare me, but it worked.
Canyoning starts out with a rather grueling hike up a mountain in a double layered wet suit, followed by cliff jumps, abseiling (that's Kiwi for rappelling), ziplining, rock climbing, swimming, and otherwise maneuvering going back down the mountain essentially following the path of a stream with many, many waterfalls.
Beyond the adventure, Queenstown is stunning. Beautiful, clean, friendly. It's a wonderful city. I treated myself to the Gondola ride up the mountain to take in the scenery. They told me I could save the $30 ticket fare if I wanted to hike it. Uhhh... no thanks.
Stop 6- Milford Sound - Milford Sound is actually a fiord not a sound... or is it? I don't know, there was lots of technical discussion about this. This was carved from a glacier, which makes it a fiord, but by technical standards, it may be too big to be considered that. Whatever they want to classify it, I'll just call it amazing.
First, we had to get there from Queenstown... I'll admit, I didn't love this bus ride. Steep terrain, a one lane tunnel through a mountain, and no cell or internet service for about 7 hours. But look at all those waterfalls!
Finally- on the 2 hour boat cruise through Milford Sound and out to the Tasman Sea... only 2000 km to Australia from there! With the cliffs being so steep, the boat could bow-up to the waterfalls to fill a plate of cups! The water was safe to drink, but the yellow color comes from all the tannins natural in the rocks. It tasted a bit acidic, so I dumped most of mine out. You'll notice the water in this sea is much browner than all of the other ocean/ lake/ river photos I've posted. Same reason.
With photographic equipment safe inside the boat, I also braved the outside deck at another waterfall encounter, which was to exhibit the sheer power of the water falling 150+ meters. The wind blew so hard I had to hold the rail to not be pushed back! The poncho was well worth the fashion faux pas after that! We also enjoyed watching the seals lazily go about their day.
15 days, 17,000 frequent flyer miles, and a whole lot of fun... and this is all I had to show for it coming home! (Don't worry, souvenirs for ALL of my nieces and nephews fit! I couldn't lose my title of Best Wawa Ever while on vacation.)
And in case you have any desire to check out the other 300 photos I posted for my family, check out the full gallery here.