Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day VI

Wanaka --> Mt. Cook Village --> Tekapo
311.6 km
23rd December '07

It was back to the mountains and off to Mt. Cook Village this time. Another early start. This time, I botched it by waking up too late :D. But it was a lot closer this time and a much easier drive. Barely any mountains till you got right up close and personal with the tallest one in the country :).
The famous thing about this part of the land was the bright turquoise colour of the lakes. Something to do with fine rock flour brought down by the glaciers in ages past. But seriously, you've gotto see it to believe it! That colour is for real, no tinting, no polarising lenses. That is what it actually looks like. That water's hardly clear though :|.
But Lake Pukaki, and its surreal water that we drove by, was not why we were there. It is actually quite sudden! You turn a corner and there it is! Mt. Cook, in all its snow-capped glory. Mt. Cook Village, however, is decidedly less than glorious. It's barely there! There is the rather eccentric looking, and apparently very famous Hermitage Hotel. And there's the visitors' centre, where we figured there were a couple of trails we could negotiate during the course of the day.
We set off immediately for Kea Point, a little lookout close to the base of another glacier and its precarious looking sand pits. On this one, you could hardly make out the ice near the base, it was nearly all a very dirty brown. But the view of Mt. Cook was definitely something else! John's Bushnells were put to good use, trying to get a really close look at the almost face-like peak.Lunch was at this rather interesting cafe with a fantastic view of the entire valley. But we could see clouds slowly sending out wispy fingers to cover up the peaks :(. The Hooker Valley Trail promised a longer and more arduous trek, but the clouds were just beginning to shed a few drops here and there. John's foresightedness proved to be handy here. In Invercargill we'd bought ourselves a couple of brightly coloured ponchos just for such an eventuality! So armed with said ponchos we started off. The wind was pretty fierce when we were exposed to it as it rushed through the valley. After having been fried in my jacket in the morning I'd very smartly left it behind, and was now getting slowly frozen to my bones :-S.
Eventually the rain drops grew large enough and heavy enough to prompt me to unfold my poncho. Unfortunately, the opening for the head wasn't the most accommodating. While struggling with it, I didn't quite realise that I had in fact stepped out onto the walk over bridge crossing the river thundering down the valley fed by the glacier. I didn't know what hit me! The poncho happily ballooned out like a sail, and one corner caught on something on the bridge. As I felt my way along the bridge to the end, I managed to rip a nice long strip off it :-<. Thereafter it was a huge struggle to just stay under the poncho. But when I did succeed, it offered some measure of protection from the cold. The ponchos and their antics were in fact quite a source of entertainment along the way, to us, and to others who passed us along the way :). Finally the trail sort of faded out at the edge of a small lake at the very base of the ice flow. (This was a different glacier from the one we'd seen in the morning! With all the different names, I can no longer figure out which was which :P.) Floating in this lake were chunks of ice! Some were white, some almost clear and transparent, some were stained dirty brown, but we found a few that were perfectly light blue! And some of them were seriously gigantic! All slowly floating down towards the narrow beginning of the river. I have to say this was the best one of the whole lot of glaciers we saw! It was freezing, and windy, and raining, but still the best hike I've done in ages!! I guess the fact that we were past the regular trail and that in the entire little hollow surrounded by mountains snow and ice, we were the only people, made it extra special. The increasingly menacing clouds forced us to consider heading back. It was a long walk, but it was all just such an unreal world all around that you didn't feel the miles slip by! By the time we were back at the poncho-ripping bridge, the sun had manage to squeeze through a little smile in between the frowning clouds, and the rain had let up. With the ponchos off we expected a straight-forward walk across, but that was not to be :(. Let me describe the bridge, it is narrow. So narrow, that only one person can walk along it at a time. There are wire handrails along the sides, but they were below waist height for me. The actual floor of the bridge is a bunch of wooden planks strung together. The wind moves it and so do you, as you walk. So when 50 knot (90 km/h) or faster winds hit you when you are a third of the way along, you are actually swinging! Not a lot, but only because of several wire stays nailed to the rocks on either side, and definitely enough to make you steal a look down at the rapids below, and maybe worry just a little bit :|. Or a lot. And that is the one time I felt I could have really been blown away :(. The rest of the walk back was not quite as eventful :). We headed for the village of Tekapo on the shores of Lake Tekapo for the night. By the time we got there, all three of us were pretty much worn out, and even the surreal colour of the lake could not keep us at the beach for long. The freezing winds didn't help. But the lounge at the YHA offered a view too beautiful to resist. Just as we were about to turn in, even before it actually got dark, a very large full moon rose from behind the hills across the lake :). You didn't really need to sleep to dream...
(was) Feeling: sinking into a dream world
Listening to: Natalie Imbruglia - Beauty on the fire

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