Feb 19, 2003

It's Bob's birthday today!!!!!!  We're celebrating tonight with a dinner with our Auckland friends, a combo birthday party and good-bye party.  It's going to be at our favourite indian restaurant, Simla, in our old neighbourhood, Mount Eden.

On the road to Queenstown.

The day after our kayaking experience, we decided that we would drive to better weather.  Basically, since we'd been on the south island, we had to wear long pants, carry fleeces and our gortex jackets, as well as rain gear.  We'd seen on the weather reports that the rest of the country was enjoying nice weather, so that was it for us, we hit the road.  We drove for about 7 hours that day, which for New Zealand is a long day's drive.  People look at you funny if you spend more than 2 hours on the road.  After about 4 hours of driving, I started to complain about it being too hot.  We bypassed Queenstown, we'd been there twice already.   We did stop at the bungy jump just outside of Queenstown to watch the brave/insane people hurdle themselves off a bridge.  We knew that one of the kayakers had a jump booked for that day, and we thought we might run into him there.  We didn't see him there, but we did run into him at a vineyard up the road, he'd done the jump and was on an adrenaline high.  I have no interest in it, but I think at this point Bob was still tempted.

View of Aoraki from our campsite.

We kept driving to Mount Cook, or Aoraki, New Zealand's tallest mountain.  We'd intended to do some walking the next day, so we got ourselves a campsite at the campground just outside of the small village that services the mountain and trails.  We pitched our tent and headed for the communal kitchen and tv room for the evening.  On the news at 6 there was a high wind warning issued for the alps, which is exactly where we were camping for the night!  It was predicted that the wind speed could reach upto 100 km/hr.  We spent the evening watching tv, saw an old episode of the Sopranos, and outside the wind whipped up.  Just as it was getting dark, I sent Bob back to check the tent and get the torch so that we could find the tent again.  When we decided to head back to the tent, it was pitch black, and we discovered that the torch batteries were dying.  Luckily I spotted the reflection of our licence plate and we made it back.  What Carol didn't mention was that our torch totally failed us, and we were lost in the dark with no idea where our tent was.  Then she suggested that I try to use the flash from our camera to generate light.  So there I was, randomly pointing the camera and clicking, hoping that we'd spot something during the few milliseconds that the flash lasted.  It must have been during one of those flashes that Carol spotted the reflection.

Our poor little tent went through a lot that night.  The wind lifted the corners up, pulling out the pegs, and the tent was only held down by our bodies.  The noise that the howling wind and the rattling tent made prevented us from falling asleep for the longest time.  Bob replaced the pegs once in the night, but it was probably less than 20 minutes before they were out again.  Several times I thought the whole tent was going to collapse around us, but it always bounced back into shape between the gusts.  We put our earplugs in, which we had bought for the huts on the tramping tracks which are communal sleeping, and managed to sleep on and off for about 4 hours.  At the crack of dawn we started disassembling our tent and headed for the track centre to see if it was possible to do any walking.  Most of the tracks were listed as not advisable to walk for the day.  They did say that one of the short walks could be done, so we headed off to Kea Point.  Kea Point looks onto a depression that was left by a glacier.  It is mostly rock and gravel, with very little vegetation.  Above the depression there are snow covered peaks.  The track that leads to the point is lined with gravel.  Because of the strong winds, the gravel was actually blowing around, hitting us quite hard.  Not the most pleasant of tracks.  It was still a very beautiful spot to see.  There was also a great view of one of the glaciers from Kea Point. The incredible blue colour of the ice is somewhat captured in the picture to the right.

A store in Ashburton.  Hi Todd!

We headed back on the highway, still intent on finding better weather.  We stopped at a great lookout on the highway by a lake, which had whitecaps on it, and Mount Cook rising from the far end.  The colour of the water was like this It wasn't like anything that I've ever seen.  Because we had such a bad sleep the night before, we pulled over into a rest stop on the side of the road, and had a short sleep.  Twenty minutes later we were refreshed and headed towards Asburton, on the east side of the south island.  As we drove away from the alps, it was still windy, but it started to get warmer at least.  Once in Ashburton, we decided we needed to sleep in compfort, and booked ourselves into a tourist flat, which is a fully self contained unit in a camping ground.  Bob put himself in charge of dinner, and we headed out to get some ingredients and alcohol.  The thing about alcohol in New Zealand is that it is basically available everywhere, in grocery stores and bottle stores, and you can drink it almost anywhere.  That is, except in Ashburton.  We wandered the grocery isles looking for some wine, but there was none to be found.  I asked someone who worked there, and he sent me to the local hotel which apparently was supposed to be a bottle store.  It wasn't, so we checked the other grocery store, and were told that we had to go to Liquorland which was outside of the town limits.  We've recently asked someone about this, and it's a throw back to the Abstinence movement, like prohibition.  Eventually we were successful and went back to the flat and had yummy pasta carbonarra. 

View from the walk in Arthur's Pass.

The next day we drove through Arthur's Pass, which crosses back to the west of the island.  It is a nice drive through the mountains, with beech forests and long glacier valleys.  We went on a four hour return walk up a mountain.  This was harder than the Routeburn, surprisingly.  I had to have a cat nap at the top before I could continue down again.  We spent the night in a cabin at a camp ground and headed to Greymouth the next day.

>> On to Greymouth

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