Finally Finished!

We’ve been working flat out on Bob for the last couple of months to get her ready for sea again. I’ll write more about that work in a future post, but here’s an overview:

– Thwart-ship deckhead support beams removed, re-laminated and re-installed. – Windlass re-conditioned
– Lower shrouds re-designed and replaced
– Various overdue engine works
– Port water tank re-sealed
– New VHF antenna installed
– New spreader lights installed
– AIS transponder installed……. I think. It’s un-tested as yet – Lots of varnishing and painting, and some interior woodwork

Wow, looking over it that looks like a really short list! I’ll explain why it took so long later, but for now I’m pleased to report that we are operational once again. As I write this we are about 200 miles North of New Zealand heading due North as fast as possible. It’s getting warmer day by day which is a wonderful relief, but there’s also quite a strong low pressure system creeping up behind us and the front is due to reach us some time around Sunday, in 3 days time. With that front come 30-knot head winds and probably lots of rain and lightning and other nastiness if we were to stick around here. There’s no wind at the moment so our faithful (knock on wood) old engine is being put through it’s paces once again and chugging us along at 5 knots. Looking at the forecast we might have to keep motoring for another twenty-four or even thirty-six hours. Then we might get fair winds for 12 hours or so and then the wind is due to back rapidly to the NNW and build ahead of the frontal passage. Bob’s not much of a beater so there’s a good chance we’ll just heave-to when that comes and wait it out.

Life on board is pretty relaxed at the moment. Of course, I’m always on edge (is that a new sound emanating from the engine, announcing its imminent demise? Or have I just never noticed it before?) but we’ve both managed to get two good nights sleep and have had plenty of time for sitting and doing nothing. We don’t even have to cook yet because we made lots of stews before we left and froze them for the passage. Beef tonight. The pot is bubbling away nicely on the hob, so I’m going to go over there and get myself a bowl.

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.

A magical road trip through Middle Earth

When Lord of the Rings fans think about visiting New Zealand they remember the films and imagine travelling through the breath-taking landscapes of Middle Earth. Many places, in both the North and South Island, were used when filming the Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. New Zealand really does have all this, from the mind blowing grandeur of snow capped mountains to the charming beauty of rolling green hills – and all this is surprisingly accessible when you see the country by land.

We wanted to really immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand – to have the freedom to visit distant corners of the country and to stay in these places for as long as we desired. It’s for these reasons we decided to travel by self-contained campervan so we could have the freedom to travel and camp as we liked.

This is our self-contained camper van ‘Jacangi’ at one of many glorious destinations in Middle Earth.

 

My brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue explored the North Island of New Zealand in their camper van, aptly named ‘Shadowfax’ after Gandalf’s horse and supposedly the fastest horse in Middle Earth. You can hardly tell the difference.

Our last blog post painted quite a negative picture of freedom camping in New Zealand and we had many messages from family and friends wanting to give advice and show their concern. For this we are extremely grateful. We want to reassure everyone that while this negative aspect is very real, it represents only a very small portion of our overall experience here and on the whole 99% of our road trip was absolutely amazing. Just like Middle Earth, New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and most of the people here are friendly and welcoming. Also like Middle Earth, there are dangers and difficulties. In our case we faced the Orcs of Mordor in the form of the ‘camper van haters’ and faced perilous dangers dealing with extreme weather conditions.

This is a dramatic representation of one of the camper van haters we experienced outside of Christchurch. I hope his face didn’t freeze like this.

This is a dramatic representation of Alex one morning after waking up in our camper van after a particularly cold night near Milford Sound.

Luckily the negative aspects of our journey were sparse and overall our experience was filled with immense enjoyment and adventure. Here are some of the highlights from our road trip through Middle Earth:

1. The Shire – Hobbiton, Waikato

The Hobbiton film set is a must-see for any Lord of the Rings fans. The drive through Waikato to get to Hobbiton puts you in the middle of rolling green hills and lush farmland. You feel like you’re in The Shire before you’ve even arrived. Once at the film set you can visit the 44 hobbit holes and their delightful gardens and veggie patches. You can also see Bag End, the mill, the Party Tree, have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and use costumes/props to transform yourself into a character from the film.

   Alex is enjoying some respite at the Green Dragon pub. He really reminds me of someone…

 

 The wise wizard greets a young hobbit outside his home to offer some wizardly wisdom.

 

 Young hobbits of The Shire resting by a horse cart.

 

2. Mordor – Tongariro National Park

Tongariro national park and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in all its splendour.

This 80,000 hectare national park is one of the most spectacular areas in New Zealand, perhaps even the world. The area encompasses meadows, lakes, alpine landscapes, rocky plateaus and jagged ravines. It is home to natural hot springs as well as three volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as the infamous Mount Doom). This is one of the most beautiful and majestic places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The film crew did a great job bringing out the menacing characteristics of the landscape and it’s very easy to imagine Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their perilous journey through the lands of Mordor with the almighty ring.

 “We wants it. We needs it. We must have… the PRECIOUS!”

 

 Mount Ngauruhoe during a fiery sunset. There’s no need to stretch your imagination for this one – the fires of Mordor are blazing.

3. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park and Fiordland

We had our pointy-ears at the ready and immersed ourselves in the home of the elves – Rivendell – or Kaitoke Region Park as it’s better known to the locals. Although the film stage has been long since removed, it’s very easy to imagine yourself in Rivendell thanks to the helpful information boards and replica elvish archway installed here.

The replica elvish archway in Kaitoke Regional Park.

 

 “Call me Legolas. Come, I will protect you.”

The magnificent backdrop to Rivendell with the immense waterfalls was filmed in Fiordland National Park and is one of the reasons why tourists flock to this area of New Zealand every year.

The magic of Rivendell can be felt at Milford Sound in Fiordland. Huge glaciers carved this fiord out of the mountains leaving behind this vast chasm, surrounded by snow covered peaks and glistening, thundering waterfalls.

4. The Anduin River – Kawarau Gorge

This is the location of a scene in the first film where the Fellowship of the Ring paddles down the Anduin River, which at one point is straddled by a pair of enormous stone statues representing the Kings of Old. The stone statues were added using CGI but the Kawarau Gorge is breathtaking nonetheless. You can see the gorge from its most striking angle by doing a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge, which Alex did on his birthday recently as mentioned in a previous post.

 Kawarau Gorge is the location for the scene of The Argonath and Anduin River.

5. The Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire, Te Anau

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes and past the haunted souls of the dead who lie under the surface of the water. It’s easy to imagine Kepler Mire as the eerie home of the dead, especially if you were to visit on a foggy evening under nothing but candle light for a truly haunting effect.

 “There are dead faces in the water!”

6. Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest, Fiordlands

The Snowdon Forest near Te Anau is the location of Fangorn Forest – home of the Ents and where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first meet Gandalf the White. You have to stretch your imagination here to really imagine yourself in the forbidden forest of the films but it’s a beautiful location nonetheless.

 Snowdon (aka Fangorn) Forest. Is that Treebeard I see in the distance?

After two glorious months our road trip through Middle Earth has finally come to an end. We’re now back on the boat and spending most of our days doing various jobs in preparation for leaving in the coming weeks. We have some major rigging work to undertake and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we’re able to set sail for Vanuatu. Autumn is now coming to an end in New Zealand, winter is coming and we’re both very keen to head to warmer climes. I’ve come to realise that my body is not built for the cold and Bob in particular is not the easiest place to heat up in a cold spell. At least we can move her to somewhere toastier.

Image credits from top to bottom

  • Shadowfax the horse – image from YouTube uploaded by Screen Themes
  • Orc of Mordor – image from lotr.wikia.com
  • Gimli covered in snow – image from www.theargonath.cc
  • Gandalf the Grey – image from zeldadungeon.net
  • Gandalf with Bilbo – image by Kelly McMorris downloaded from kellybean86.deviantart.com
  • Hobbits by horse cart – image from 8tracks.com from Concerning Hobbits playlist
  • Tongariro National Park – photo by Tom Brooks
  • Gollum with ring – image from maybeshesthatgirl.blogspot.co.nz
  • Fires of Mordor – image from jrrtolkien.wikia.com
  • Legolas – image from lots.wikia.com
  • The Argonath/ Anduin River – image from www.queenstown.net.nz
  • Gollum in Dead Marshes – image is screenshot from film
  • Fantasy Forest – image by Daniel Pilla downloaded from danielpillaart.deviantart.com

The Darker Side of New Zealand

 

No parking….. why on Earth not?! It’s a minor public road. No one and nothing is being negatively impacted by us being there. So why is it illegal?

 

It would be so easy to write light-hearted, happy blogs all the time. Palm trees and beaches. Or in the case of New Zealand mountains and rivers. But I think it’s important for us to take off the smile once in a while and write about some of the less savoury things. After all, life is about the bad as well as the good.

New Zealand is a spectacularly beautiful place. Some of the anchorages we have visited over the last year and a half have been very beautiful too, but none have been grand. That’s what New Zealand offers. But, when we envisaged what this place would be like (based largely on the reports of those who had come before us) we had also naively imagined a first-world country whose citizens were free.

Perhaps the most stifling aspect of so-called ‘developed’ countries that I struggle with is the lack of what I would call basic freedoms. At the top of this list is the freedom to take responsibility for oneself. To make decisions and live by the consequences, good or bad. That is how we learn, and how we grow as people. But most of us live in a world where we are denied this freedom, even in cases where our actions and decisions would have no impact on anyone else one way or the other. In my view, this is severely detrimental to the personal development of individuals and by extension society itself. Our world is moving day by day towards a situation where no-one is willing to accept responsibility for anything, especially themselves and especially where personal safety can be construed to be at risk. We even make big business out of buying and selling other people’s ‘risk’! For me the ability to get away from this is a major attraction of offshore sailing.

We had hoped that New Zealand would be a rare example of a first-world country whose citizens still had these basic freedoms. Where victimless crimes are not considered crimes at all. Alas, such is not the case. Unfortunately, like so many other countries, New Zealand is slowly suffocating itself with bureaucracy. It’s nowhere near as bad as the U.K. yet, but every day new laws and bylaws are being written restricting the freedoms of minorities while none are being rescinded and no laws guaranteeing freedoms are being written. The problem is that everyone belongs to some minority or other, so everyone gets hit in the end. Everywhere we go we see signs banning one thing or another and threatening huge fines for non-compliance. No parking. No dogs. No smoking. No camping. No access. No swimming. No walking. Trail closed. No boating. The list could go on for a very long time. No camping. Now that is one that we see many, many times a day and it’s such a shame because it’s going to destroy the freedom to do trips like the one we’re doing. With it will go a whole chunk of the tourism industry and whole communities will suffer. One inconsiderate camper leaves a bag of trash lying around and the next thing you know a ‘no camping’ sign appears. The result? More and more camper vans crammed into smaller and smaller spaces, looking unsightly and undesirable. One more bag of trash and whoops, there goes another camping site. But it all stems back to legislation.

New Zealand waste management really sucks, largely as a result of legislation. I had to drive 40km to drop off one gallon of waste oil at an ‘approved facility’ because nowhere else had the appropriate licenses for handling ‘hazardous materials’. Tell me – if a petrol station is not licensed to handle hazardous materials who is?! The result? People don’t bother. They dump it on the ground. No license required for that so long as nobody catches you. The same goes for batteries. In fact, the same goes for all trash. The reason that that inconsiderate camper dumped that bag of trash in the first place is because everything you buy in the shops is over-packaged and there is literally no-where else to put it. We routinely carry trash around for more than a week before we can find somewhere to dispose of it properly. There are very, very few public bins (none outside the three largest supermarkets in the town we were in yesterday) and the ones that are there have a deliberately tiny opening and a sign threatening a $400 fine for anyone caught using it for disposing of domestic waste.

Unfortunately all is not well in the land of camper vans. Especially in the South Island there is widespread and growing animosity towards people in camper vans not dissimilar to the way that gypsies in the U.K. are viewed, except that a good 30% of the vans here are flash motor homes with six-figure price tags and 40% are shiny rentals whose occupants are paying at least $150 per day for the privilege. We’ve had a man ride a scooter up and down the road past the camper vans screaming obscene abuse at us. People routinely honk their horns aggressively to wake us up if they spot us by the side of a road as they are driving to work, or go out of their way to visit the approved camping spots just so that they can abuse and harass the campers. As I write this we’re sitting in the van on the outskirts of Christchurch with 26 other vans because this is the only legal place to camp within 30 kilometres. It’s half past midnight and there’s been a local car treating the area as a racetrack and doing doughnuts for the last two hours. No-one will say anything because the last time someone confronted the angry locals here they had beer bottles hurled at them. One van even had fireworks lit underneath it as a not-very-gentle message that they were not welcome here. But we have no choice. We’re not allowed to camp anywhere else.

We had initially hoped to perhaps seek work here for a year before sailing on. Maybe we’d even fall in love with the place. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened. The South Pacific Cyclone Season is ending now. We have at least a month of work to do on Bob before she’ll be ready to sail and a long way to go next year. I’m antsy to get back up North and start work. Of course, that also means confronting the residents of Kerikeri once again, none of whom likes our campervan. We park it outside one person’s house until they complain and then park it outside someone else’s, trying to remain polite, compliant, sympathetic and friendly throughout in spite of the way that we are approached about it. The problem is there’s just nowhere to park that isn’t outside someone’s house (well, outside their wall/hedge really. All of them are bordered by impenetrable privacy barriers and the only time they need to see our van is when they turn in or out of their driveways). I’ve even thought of selling the van once we get up north and buying a car instead, just so that people would hate us a little less.

Good night.

Update the following morning: sure enough we received our wake-up call bright and early as a local motorist went out of their way to visit the camping area and thoroughly test their horn. At least we have the luxury of moving somewhere else when we’re not welcome. The town of Lyttleton will not be benefitting from our custom, nor, I suspect, the considerable custom of the occupants of all the other campers that are here.

Hiking and Other Arm-Shrinking Activities

Being cheapskate unemployed bums we are required to strictly prioritise what we spend our money on. Bob comes pretty high up the list. After all, a neglected Bob could revolt against us and leave us in a rather sticky – or at least wet – situation. After Bob comes food, fuel etc. and there isn’t really a whole lot left over for frivolous recreational activities. So with what activities do we occupy ourselves in our impecunious state?

We tried sailing our dinghy again. Those of you who have been following our adventures and misadventures for a while may remember that our dinghy was unfortunately rendered unsailable by the loss of the dagger board (and a paddle, an oar, Sarah’s shoes and an anchor) during a moment of stupidity on my part when I failed to secure the dinghy properly one night way back in the Marquesas Islands last year. Well, we finally made a new dagger board (out of cheap plywood this time) and took Numpty (that’s the dinghy) out for a sail in a stiff onshore breeze among the beautiful inlets around the North Coast of the South Island. As we were sitting in the van waiting for a violent rain squall to pass it did occur to us that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea, but we shoved that thought aside once the sun made a fleeting appearance through the clouds, headed to the beach and pushed out from shore. Numpty performed beyond expectations. She was remarkably stable and carved to windward like a champ. Unfortunately, just as we were about a mile from shore and thinking of turning around there was a slightly gustier gust than usual, we heard a loud CRACK and half the dagger board appeared floating on the surface to windward. Well, at least it was a downwind leg back to the beach. We eased the sheets and bore away but the next thing to come down was the mast, which shattered spectacularly and turned the sail into a sea anchor. Jury-rigging consisted of me standing up and spreading my T-shirt (between fits of laughter) while Sarah diligently kept us going in vaguely the right direction. I really really wish we’d thought to get some before and after shots to post here. Needless to say, Numpty looked a bit sorry for herself back on the beach and is now without a sailing rig once again. Perhaps she’s trying to tell us something?

Another activity that has been popular with us is hiking (or ‘tramping’ as it is often called here) . It has been a top-rated activity for us for three reasons:

1. It’s not something we’ve really had the opportunity to do on account of Bob’s limited range of hiking destination options.
2. It’s free.
3. New Zealand boasts a phenomenal range of mind-bogglingly spectacular sights and experiences that are only accessible by hiking. So, while my arms waste away for lack of ropes to pull, my legs are getting stouter and our general fitness has noticeably improved.

“What ‘sights and experiences’ speak thee of?” I hear you clamour. Sarah has written about the Tongariro Crossing in an earlier blog. Since arriving in the South Island we have also visited some amazing caves and no less than three glaciers.

We have learned, among other things, that when the New Zealand Department of Conservation posts a sign somewhere giving information or warning you of some sort of hazard it is wise to pay heed to it. When they say it’s a 6-hour hike they don’t mean a six-hour stroll for an overweight lady pushing a wheelchair and stopping to have a chat with everyone she meets, they mean a six-hour hike for someone far fitter than either of us when weather conditions are perfect and without taking any breaks. Similarly, when they say to be mindful of heavy rain because the trail (which involves several river crossings) may become impassable they really mean it. We set off along a trail looking for some caves and took a wrong turning at one point. The trail appeared to lead directly into a river that was barrelling along at a rate of knots and didn’t look at all friendly. I waded in to literally test the waters and found myself waist-deep pretty quickly struggling to keep my footing in the current. We sensibly gave it up as a bad idea. Just then, however, a red-jacketed lady appeared on the opposite bank wearing an expression of curious surprise mingled with no small quantity of fear. She and her partner were stuck, had no tent to spend the night in and the only other way out was an eight-hour hike in the opposite direction. When they had crossed the river just three hours previously it had been no more than 10cm deep. Now it was definitely impassable. I can’t express how stupendously lucky they were that there just happened to be a random guy blasting up the river in a jet boat who was able to ferry them across. The chances of such a serendipitous eventuality occurring must be phenomenally low. But, there we are! We were fortunate to learn a valuable lesson the easy way. What’s more, it turned out that we didn’t need to cross the river at all in order to reach the caves, which were perhaps the best I have ever visited.

Here I am ‘testing the waters’. The other side of the trail is marked by the orange post on the other side of the river, upstream from our location:

 

Here’s the guy in the jet boat (finally! A use for jet-driven boats!) blasting past us. The depth of the water is perhaps 10cm – you can clearly see the rocks beneath the surface. Apparently these things are even able to become airborne if necessary in order to clear logs and whatnot:

 

Here he is ferrying one of the stricken hikers across the torrent:

 

And here was our destination for the hike – this cave. Pretty cool eh?

Next up were some walks to visit several glaciers. Glaciers are really cool (har har). Basically they are rivers of ice. Snow falls high in the mountains and as it funnels down the steep mountainsides it gradually becomes more and more compact until it is ice. MASSIVE forces are involved which drive the whole lot down the mountainside, tearing away huge chunks of rock and shaping the mountains and valleys of the land. During the last ice age much of the South Island was covered in glaciers. All have receded but a few are still around to be seen…… for now at least. Global warming is accelerating glacial retreat to unprecedented rates. Franz-Josef is receding at a gargantuan 100m per annum. That’s a kilometre in the last ten years, and it’s been fairly well documented since the first photographs were taken back in the late 1800s.

It was a gray, rainy day so the light wasn’t great for photography. Nevertheless Sarah managed to get this one of the Franz-Josef Glacier. The source of the river is meltwater, and it is coloured grey by suspended rock particles that were scoured from the sides of the valley and incorporated into the ice matrix, only to be released as the ice melts:

 

In the picture above, the position of the glacier in about 2008 more or less corresponds to the line where the greenery turns to yellow/bare rock. It is starkly depicted by this picture of a picture from an information board. Each of these was taken from the same viewpoint, just 4 years apart.

 

We tried to visit the famous Fox Glacier next, but unfortunately a recent cyclone has destroyed the trail (yes, cyclones are now hitting the SOUTH island of New Zealand – a country that supposedly ‘doesn’t get cyclones’) so we were only able to get a glimpse from afar.

This is as close as we were able to get, and to manage this we had to bend the rules regarding ‘closed’ tracks a little:

 

The third glacier, which was extra-specially-cool – is the Rob Roy Glacier in the Mount Aspiring National Park. To get there we had to take Jacangi down a harrowing 30km stretch of gravel road and across eleven nerve-wracking fords (places where it is possible, in some conditions and with the right vehicle, to cross a stream or river by driving through it. Generally a 2-wheel-drive camper van would not be considered ‘the right vehicle’) before hiking 5km up a mountain and 5km back. It was totally worth it.

Here’s a beautiful long-exposure shot that Sarah got of the river:

 

And a view of the glacier itself from our viewpoint. Being high enough to be just above the tree line we had a good, unobscured view:

 

Finally, on the way back from Rob Roy we took a detour up to the Treble Cone Ski Area, which is the highest ski resort in New Zealand. It’s not open yet for the ski season but it was an amazing drive up and a spectacular view from the top. Jacangi protested furiously at the climb by producing lots of black smoke (due to the thin air I think………) and we had to stop twice to avoid overheating the engine, but she got there and is none the worse for wear.

Here was our reward:

 

Oh, I should mention that Sarah did not accompany me on the drive up to the ski area. Instead she chose to travel up there Mary-Poppins style 🙂

 

Our adventures continue. Tomorrow we’ll drive the five hours or so to the famous Milford Sound, which is purported by some to be the most beautiful place on this island full of beautiful places.