MistyNites

My Life in Motion

A Cantabrian Christmas

Growing up in the Northern Hemisphere, I can relate to the typical Christmas scenes of snowy trees, snowmen and reindeer, and with the dark and cold days that fill the winter months back in my native Scotland, the prospect of an upcoming festive season is all-consuming. This is the 5th time in my life that I have spent the run up to Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, it is all about summer holidays, barbecues, laying on the beach and soaking up the sunshine. The days are lengthening and the temperature is thinking about rising. It is an antipodean Christmas and every year since moving to New Zealand, I’ve struggled to feel festive. In fact this year particularly, I’ve been totally unorganised and managed to miss the international postage date to send cards and gifts back to my friends and family in the UK. Thank-goodness for online shopping!

On a back road heading out of Christmas, live a couple who for the past few years have opened up their garden to the public to come and revel in their festive light display. For a charitable donation, each night from the end of November to the end of December, it is possible to join the large crowds of friends and families as they gaze in wonderment at the light and music display. If that can’t get someone in the festive spirit, I don’t know what will.

Christmas LightsChristmas DisplayChristmas DisplaySnow BearChristmas LightsChristmas slide

 

Christchurch Stands Tall

As part of the international Wild in Art project, this summer sees 99 fibre-glass giraffe sculptures placed around the city of Christchurch and its suburbs. Titled Christchurch Stands Tall, a trail map takes people on a journey to find the 49 sponsored large giraffes and the 50 school-project small ones. It is hoped that the trail will bring people back into parts of the city that they haven’t visited before or in a while and illustrate the ongoing progress being made in the rebuild and redesign of the city following the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The feedback has been very positive and I for one have had fun going round ‘collecting’ them. Unfortunately, a select few have taken to vandalism and as such a small number have had to be taken off display for repair which is highly disappointing. Focusing on the positives though, there are some beautiful designs and I have a few favourites. Which are your favourites? The giraffes will be on display until 24th January 2015 before being auctioned for charity.

  • 1. Mosaic. Cathedral Square

Mosaic GiraffeMosaic Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 2. Imagine. Cathedral Square

20141115_154850 Imagine Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 3. Rifraff Giraffe. Corner of High & Hereford Streets

Rifraff Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 4. The Giraffe of Gratitude. Cashel Street (Bannatynes)

Giraffe of Gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 5. Building on Our Memories. Cashel Street

Building on our Memories Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 6. Point Blank. Park of Remembrance

Point Blank Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 7. Firth. Christchurch City Council

Firth Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 8. Crusade. The Arts Centre

Crusade GiraffeCrusade Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 9. Spring (Brilliance in Resilience). Botanical Gardens at the Peacock Fountain

Spring Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 10. Zarafa’s Blue Mandalas. HSBC Tower on Worcester Boulevard

Zaraffa Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 11. Raise. Worcester Bridge

Raise Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 12. We Are Worth It. Christchurch Casino

Worth It GiraffeWorth It Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 13. The Builder. The Commons

Builder Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 14. Aroha, Love Canterbury. The Commons

Canterbury GiraffeCanterbury Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 15. Beauty Amongst the Rust. Victoria Square

Rust GiraffeRust Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 16. Tall Toys. Cathedral Junction

Tall Toys Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 17. Queen of Hearts. Cathedral Junction

Queen of Hearts GiraffeQueen of Hearts Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 18. Reflecting Changes. Agropolis Urban Farm (corner of High Street and Tuam Street)

Reflective Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 19. Safety First. EPIC Hub on Tuam Street

Safety First GIraffeSafety First Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 20. Bubbles. ArtBox Gallery on Madras Street

Bubbles GiraffeBubbles Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 21. Te Aroha Mutunga Kore (Loved Forever). 343 Cambridge Terrace

Loved Forever GiraffeLoved Forever GIraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 22. Giraffa Spatiumnolovacuam. Think Differently Book Exchange (corner of Kilmore Street & Barbadoes Street)

Giraffa GiraffeGiraffa Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 23. Harakeke. Doris Lusk Park

Harakeke Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 24. The Very Last Daisy Rothschild. XCHC

Last Rothschild GiraffeLast Rothschild Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 25. The Animal Biscuit. The Colombo Mall

Biscuit Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 26. For Fun. Christchurch South Library

For Fun GiraffeFor Fun Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 27. Moa Giraffe. Cashmere Valley Reserve

Moa GiraffeMoa Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 28. Harold. Pioneer Recreation Centre

Harold GiraffeHarold Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 29. Giraffe Crossing. Hazeldean Business Park

Giraffe CrossingGiraffe Crossing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 30. Wicket. Hagley Oval

Wicket GiraffeWicket Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 31. The Best of Times. Riccarton House

Best of Times GiraffeBest of Times Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 32. Mapthew & Head Above the Clouds. Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre

Mapthew GIraffeMapthew Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 33. Dunk (The Canterbury Giraffe). Botanic Gardens Playground

Dunk Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 34. Kea Parrot Stay. Mona Vale Park

Kea GiraffeKea Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 35. Reach For The Stars. Jellie Park

Reach for the Stars GiraffeReach for the Stars Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 36. Hero. Merivale Mall

Hero GiraffeHero Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 37. Space Wild. Malvern Park

Space Wild GiraffeSpace Wild Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 38. Raquelle. Pak ‘n’ Save Wainoni

Raquelle GiraffeRaquelle Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 39. Head In The Clouds… Feet On The Ground… Everywhere In Between… And Beyond. Carnaby Lane, New Brighton

Carnaby Lane GiraffeCarnaby Lane GIraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 40. Bat Giraffe. New Brighton Library

Bat GiraffeBat Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 41. Ziraffe. Main Road, Mount Pleasant

Ziraffe GIraffeZiraffe Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 42. Yagi. Sumner Green

Yagi GIraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 43. Cloud Gazer. Sumner Esplanade

NB. This giraffe was badly vandalised and is off display. It is currently unknown whether it will return

  • 44. Evolution. London Street, Lyttleton

Evolution GIraffeEvolution Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 45. The Longest Grink in Town. Tai Tapu General Store

Milkshake GiraffeMilkshake Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 46. Monarch. Christchurch International Airport

Monarch Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 47. From Kaiapoi With Love. 166 Williams Street, Kaiapoi

Kaiapoi GiraffeKaiapoi Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 48. Dotted Line. 2a Good Street, Rangiora

Rangiora Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 49. Whatever’s Clever. New Regent Street

New Regent Street GIraffeWhatever's Clever Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 50. The Small Can Stand Tall Too. Canterbury Museum

Small Tall GiraffeSmall Tall Giraffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • School Project Giraffes. Various

School GiraffesSchool GiraffeSchool GiraffeSchool GiraffeSchool GiraffeSchool GiraffeSchool GiraffeSchool Giraffe

Rakaia Gorge Walkway

After an unusually mild winter, there have been some spring dumpings of fresh snow followed by a sudden increase in temperature. This has resulted in the usually gentle-flowing glacier-fed turquoise rivers of the Canterbury Plains turning into milky torrents as the snowy caps on the neighbouring mountains melt in preparation for the coming summer.

On State Highway (SH) 77, also known as Scenic Highway 72, west of Christchurch on route to Mt Hutt and Methven, the Rakaia river is crossed by a historic bridge built in the late 19th century. Rakaia river exiting the gorgeOn the eastern side of this bridge is a car park next to the river bed, and from here, the Rakaia Gorge walkway commences. The historic 19th century bridgeHeading first up to the bridge where single lane traffic trundles across, look out for an orange arrow on the opposite side of the road which marks out the walkway as it disappears into the bushes. From early on, the view is incredible, and the changing viewpoint of the flowing river is visible for a large percentage of the hike.

 

 

 

The 19th century bridge viewed from river levelThe quality of the path starts off well: a sandy, well-trodden path that skirts round the first few bends of the river. Rakaia river leaving the gorge behindIt varies in minor ascents and descents, occasionally reaching near river level before gaining height to bring the path up to the full height of the gorge. Approaching the lower gorge lookoutThe Mt Hutt range is visible on approach to the first lookout and the view from the lower gorge lookout is incredible. Lower gorge lookoutAt this point, the gorge is quite steep and all the more dramatic with the milky waters gushing through below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rakaia riverFrom here, the path and the river snakes round several bends and after a while, the path crosses into private property and at times cuts through woodland. Rakaia river winding downstreamWith reduced sun exposure, and some recent rain, these sections of the walk were exceedingly muddy and in places slippery. Mt Hutt range and the beautiful Canterbury countrysideFor short spells, the river is hidden from view before reappearing with an all new perspective on it. Abandoned coal mineDeep within one wooded section is a spur track to some disused coal mines. The path is much less trodden and on this occasion was relatively overgrown. I had to climb over a few fallen trees and part some vegetation to follow it past 2 mine entrances, and down to a small stream and mini-waterfall. Whereas the main track was quite popular with walkers the day I was there, few ventured down the spur track and it was easy to feel like you were a million miles away from civilisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rakaia river viewed from farmlandBack on the main track and a few bends and slight climb later, the path splits into a loop. Mt Hutt range viewed across farmlandI opted to go anti-clockwise, and climbed steadily out the woodland and out onto farmland, across which the path climbs steadily up to the upper gorge lookout. Upper gorge lookoutAgain the Mt Hutt range stands proudly over the river which flows through the deep gorge. This is a fantastic spot to put your feet up, have some lunch and absorb the view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gorse bushes on the gorge walkFrom this vantage point, the path heads down the side of the gorge past the dramatic yellow blooming gorse bushes, and back into the bush which hides the river until a sign denotes a spur track to a boat landing. Rakaia river bedIt is a short walk from here to the shingle bed past which the river loudly flowed downstream. It is easy to feel small and insignificant in such a spot with the walls of the gorge around you and the might of the water gushing past at such speed. Backtracking, the path eventually loops back round to the sign which denotes the split in the track, and from here you retrace your steps back downstream to the road bridge.

 

 

 

 

Including a lunch stop, this 10km walk took me just over 3 hrs return, and I absolutely loved it. With such stunning views at every turn, this walk is definitely a personal favourite.

Tiromoana Bush Walk

In the Hurunui district, about an hour north of Christchurch, lies Waipara, from where the Mt Cass road leads east towards the coast. A mix of sealed and unsealed, the road snakes for 10km until the unassuming car park for the Tiromoana bush walk appears. No dogsThe sign at the start of the walk regarding dogs on the track doesn’t mince its words: this is not a place to come walk the pooch. View from the carparkThe view from the car park is of rolling green hills and sheep grazing the landscape. The walk itself is through privately owned land, and is closed during the lambing season during the months of August and September.

 

 

 

 

Barbara's LookoutNot far from the car park is the first spur track, a very short detour to Barbara’s lookout which gives the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in the distance. From here it is a steep hike downhill through some forest until a sign at Ridge Junction signals the option to take the loop in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Wetlands viewed from Ridge JunctionI opted to go anti-clockwise, so the route followed a ridge to Ella Pond Lookout, from where the large Ella pond is nestled amongst a dip in the rolling landscape, with the Pacific Ocean getting nearer in the background. Ella PondAt this time of year (November), the gorse is in full flower. Despite being an unwanted pest species introduced from Europe, it lends a beautiful yellow colour to the landscape.

 

 

 

 

Pegasus Bay LookoutThrough the fence line to the left of the path is farmland, with flocks of sheep grazing nearby. Sheep wandering across a paddockAnother spur track leads up to the Pegasus Bay lookout, which I was disappointed in when I got there. It is actually quite a restricted view of the ocean with trees and farmland obscuring a lot of the view. Forest pathDownhill from here, the walk snakes through a forested area to the Forestry Junction. The path to Rocky Ridge is currently closed until further notice. Heading down to Ngaio JunctionThe route to the beach continues downhill past reams of flowering gorse bushes to Ngaio Junction. This is the only place on the whole walk where there is a toilet, and it is little more than a portaloo at the side of the track. The beach visible from the Clifftop Lookout trackThe Clifftop Lookout spur track follows the fence line of a neighbouring sheep grazing paddock and there were lots of lambs around. The path does peter out though, and the latter part is not very obvious as it weaves across the clifftop. For this reason, I chose not to continue on it, and headed back to the main track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final downhill section loops round to Kate Ford where a small ladder over the fence allows you to gain access to the beach. Crossing the streamIt is a sandy track winding along and across a small stream as it snakes its way to the sea. Sand dunes to the southThe dunes here are massive, and it is possible to explore the beach here in either direction but this is the only access point to the track. In the far distance to the south, it is possible to make out the hilly outline of Banks Peninsula. Back at Kate Ford it is all uphill from here. Deer gateThe path snakes up beside farmland, and at one stage you have to go through a deer gate to skirt round some private land. Looking out to sea with Banks Peninsula visible on the horizonWith the Pacific Ocean to your left, you regain altitude, passing a spur track at Kanuka South and reaching another one at Ella Peak Junction. Looking north from the Ella Peak trackI took the spur track up to Ella Peak where I had my lunch. Looking north from Ella PeakEven on an overcast day like the one I had, it was a fantastic view along the coast of Pegasus Bay both to the north and the south. View inland from Ella PeakBehind the viewpoint, the rolling hills disappeared into the distance. This is the highest point of the walk at 346 metres above sea level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the main track, it isn’t far to Kanuka North which is connected to Kanuka South by a spur track. A little bit further and there is a viewing platform which overlooks a natural gully. WetlandsContinuing on from here, and the path drops down to a wetland. At Kate Bridge, the path cuts up the side of the wetland which was home to a large flock of Canada Geese.Canada Geese It is then just a final slog up the hillside and through another deer fence to Ridge Junction, and then backtrack up the steep hill through the forest, past Barbara’s lookout and back to the car park.

Bula! Bula!

‘Isles of smiles. Miles of isles’ – Fiji summed up perfectly on a poster in a bar. Of all the countries that I have visited, Fiji stands out for me as having the happiest and friendliest people that I have ever encountered. No matter where I went in this island nation, nestled in the southern Pacific Ocean, I was greeted with a warm and welcoming smile and an always enthusiastic ‘Bula!’ Their eternal happiness proves heavily infectious. Even outwith the main tourism centres, where living is more basic, and money is less readily obtained, the locals still wave hello and smile broadly, proving that money does not buy happiness but peace and community does. I had heard it muted that the indigenous Fijians did not all take kindly to the more recent influx of Indians that now call Fiji home, but I saw no evidence of this during my brief stay. What I discovered was a beautiful, welcoming country of mixed religion, with many people who seemed genuinely grateful that we had decided to visit their country.

Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu is less than a 4-hour flight from Christchurch in New Zealand. Flying with the country’s own airline, Fiji Airways, we arrived in Nadi International Airport after dark. A friend was celebrating a milestone birthday, and there was a large group of us who had joined her in splashing out on a memorable trip to Fiji, half of us going there for the first time. As someone that is used to staying in hostels and motels, this was my first time staying at a 5-star resort, and Denarau Island where our hotel was, was less than a 30-minute drive from the airport. In the dark of night, we saw only the streets we drove through, first through Namaka, then the outskirts of Nadi before turning off Queen’s Road to reach Denarau Island, a security-guarded island filled with resorts, private residences and a marina and port. Like most of the hotels here, the Sofitel has a grand entrance and we were greeted straight away by baggage handlers and drivers who insisted on taking our luggage, an experience that I’ve never had the pleasure of before. The front desk was where we got our first experience of ‘Fiji time’, a much laughed about, but at times slightly frustrating, lack of time management or rush. At 8pm at night, our room was not yet ready, and we were forced to take a stool at the bar to bide some time. Tired from our journey, we propped our heads up, consuming our complimentary drinks, followed by a pizza and more drinks, which were brought to us in no great hurry. Finally, at 9pm, we got the news that our room was ready, and we could crash out, ready to start the holiday afresh in the morning.

Breakfast with a viewOne of my favourite things about tropical islands is how deliciously fresh and flavoursome the fruit tastes. That morning and many after, we enjoyed a fruit platter for breakfast, looking out over coconut palms. With such a large group of us, we generally did our own things during the day and met up for dinners or a swim in the evening. My partner and I were eager to do some sight-seeing and go on some excursions, so whilst many of us headed down to Port Denarau, the two of us went round the tour operators to look at excursions, whilst the others went shopping at the boutiques. It was an overcast day, and there was a threat of rain, but the two of us booked to go ziplining near the Sleeping Giant mountain. As soon as we left Denarau Island, our driver took us off the main road and down a dirt track road, a road which the locals knew as a short-cut. As the driver said, this was the real Fiji. People wandered along the side of the road barefoot and small houses were dotted amongst the low-lying vegetation. With the area being so flat and low-lying, the area around Nadi and Denarau have been repeatedly devastated in severe floods, the most recent occurring in 2012 when 3 separate flooding incidents occurred a few months apart.

Sleeping Giant mountainTurning off Queen’s road to the north of the airport, we eventually reached an un-sealed road which was riddled with pot-holes and washed out edges. Our driver bounced us round and over them, swinging from the left to the right side of the road, avoiding farmers and other vehicles as he went. We passed large fields of sugar cane, a common sight in many parts of Viti Levu, as we travelled up the Sabeto Valley, eventually pulling in at the zipline centre around lunchtime. Straight away we were kitted up and guided round the 5-zipline course which took us flying through the trees at speeds up to 40km/hr. Pineapple growingDeep in the rainforest it was hot and sticky, and whilst the fee included unlimited ‘zips’ we opted to do just 1 circuit before stopping for a scrumptious lunch that was included in the price. Vine treeAfterwards, us and another couple were guided on a sweaty rainforest walk past growing pineapples, bananas and coffee beans whilst cicadas buzzed around us and a parrot flitted noisily through the trees above our head. One of the waterfalls at Orchid fallsOur reward was a swim in the water at the base of Orchid Falls, two split-level waterfalls next to each other. It was exceedingly refreshing to get into the cool water and it made the hike back to the centre much more bearable.

 

 

 

 

There is plenty of choice for dining at Port Denarau, and that first night the birthday girl chose to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. We dined outside under the moon enjoying cocktails whilst a live band played near the waterfront. The band were amazing with the singer having an exceptional voice and we stayed on to listen to them play. There was a slightly surreal moment after they had finished when the Hard Rock staff came outside and danced to the Village People’s YMCA. With so many eateries, the port was buzzing and it was a fantastic atmosphere to be a part of.

The coastal view on Denarau IslandHaving woken early, just like the previous morning I went out for a walk along the shore past the neighbouring resorts. Sofitel Hotel's swimming poolIt was a peaceful time to be up with only the occasional jogger and staff about the place, and even being another grey day, it was a lovely area to walk around. Not being used to the luxury of 5-star resorts I enjoyed having a nosey round the various resorts I passed comparing swimming pools, hammocks and vistas. After another delicious fruit platter breakfast, we were collected and taken to Port Denarau to catch our ferry out to Mana Island. South Sea IslandAn unrushed 90-minute catamaran ride heads to Mana via South Sea, Beachcomber and Treasure islands. It was still a little overcast, but despite the grey skies, it was still possible to appreciate the beautiful blue waters lapping on the golden sands of each of these little spots of paradise. Being welcomed to Mana IslandThese islands were too small to berth at directly, so passengers had to disembark onto a smaller vessel to get out to them, but Mana was big enough to have a jetty. Approaching the pier through the narrow channel, the group of locals at the end of the pier burst into song and serenaded us as we disembarked onto our island paradise.

 

 

Aside from a couple of backpackers and some private residences, Mana Island Resort is the only accommodation on the island. It encompasses a myriad of styles of accommodation that spans a broad section of land spanning from the south beach to the north beach. North beachThe pier, watersports centre and a restaurant sit on the south beach, whereas the kids pool, infinity pool and pool bar are nestled by the north beach. With beaches on the north, south and west coasts, there’s plenty of choice to sunbathe or swim, especially as there is a natural reef surrounding most of the island. After yet another drawn-out wait to get into our room, during which time the pool-side bar was made use of, finally we were able to kick back and relax. For my partner, that means lying by the pool, whereas for me, that means exploring. Before we went our separate ways, we had lunch at the restaurant on the south beach, and watched the boats come and go off shore. A group of us went along the beach to the east of the resort, past the neighbouring village, and then turned back when we reached the rocky end of the beach.

I’m a lover of ‘me’ time, and when everyone else headed back to the resort, I set off west. Mana Island from the lookoutWithin the resort is a path leading up to a lookout which gives a fantastic view over the resort to the east, sunset beach to the west, and the nearest islands to the north and the south. It was a beautiful viewing point, even on an overcast day. Coming back from there, it was a winding route through the resort to find the road to sunset beach. It snakes past the end of the island’s airstrip and through bush. It wasn’t long until I was stopped by some of the resort staff on a golf cart who insisted on taking me to sunset beach despite my insistence that I wanted to walk. One of the things that saddened me about Mana Island was that the resort was built right next to the island’s village, but they were separated by a high fence that was guarded by security. It was possible to skirt this fence on the beach, and the villagers, and the nearby backpackers were very welcoming of resort guests, but the resort did not return the favour. The resort staff were polite and friendly but it didn’t take long for them to enquire where I was staying and ask for my room number. They seemed satisfied that I was a resort guest, but I wondered how they would have behaved had I not been one. As it was, they were almost too friendly, enquiring about my relationship status and asking where my boyfriend was and why I was alone. It made me feel a tad uncomfortable, and I was relieved when at last they dropped me off at sunset beach.

Sunset beach, unlike the north and south beaches of the resort was desolate. Not a soul was around, and it was just me, the sand, and the lapping waves. I meandered along the soft shore, passing the time idly before following the road back to the resort, praying to be left alone to walk. Private beachA turn-off through vegetation leads to another lookout, this time overlooking the pier and the south beach, as well as a private beach that is accessible only to residents of some upmarket residences. Another catamaran had arrived and there was a stream of people disembarking.

It was relatively well known that the best place to eat on the island, was the backpacker’s restaurant which had an ocean view from it’s south beach location, on the edge of the village on the non-resort side of the high fence. Fijian band at the backpackersMany resort guests made the journey round the fence along the beach to eat there and we were no exception. The place was packed, and the band had to be moved to allow us all to sit down and eat. I tried a Fijian prawn dish which was nice but rather lacking in prawns, and we listened to the locals singing Fijian songs before heading back to the comfort of our beds.

Hermit crabThere was a hint of blue in the sky the next morning – the first chance of sunshine since we’d arrived. Waking early, I went for a walk along the beach, looking at coral washed up on the shoreline, and giggling at the sight of my favourite shoreline creature: the humble hermit crab. Matamanoa IslandMy partner and I headed out to sea on the Seaspray, a lovely yacht that took us round Mana and then north to the nearby islands. Monuriki IslandIt was a fantastic day for a sail, the clouds separating and the sun gleaming down on us and the beautiful blue waters. We headed first to Matamanoa Island, an exclusive resort where we picked up a couple of extra passengers. From there it wasn’t far to Monuriki Island, the island where Tom Hanks was Castaway. Purple coralWe moored offshore, and were ferried onto the beach from where we could go snorkelling. Snorkelling off MonurikiIt had been nearly 3 years since I had last snorkelled, and my last experience of tropical snorkelling had been in the lagoon of Rarotonga. I had enjoyed the snorkelling in the Cook Islands, but this was definitely better. The coral was not particularly colourful but the fish were plentiful and close to shore. Some of the fish were especially curious, swimming very close to investigate. I spent nearly an hour in the water taking it all in, reluctant to go back to shore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our return to the boat, we were greeted with a most amazing barbeque. Fish, chicken, sausages, steak, salads, fruit, and dessert and all you could ever want to drink. It was scrumptious. The boat set off, by-passing neighbouring Monu island, and moored off Yanuya island where we once again headed to shore. The kava ceremonyThe villagers here welcomed us with a traditional kava ceremony – a drink that is made from ground down roots of the plant of the same name. It is reputed to have an anaesthetic-like quality: de-stressing and making the drinker sleepy and relaxed. Villagers drink it like Westerners drink alcohol: socially and medicinally. We had been pre-warned that it would be watered down into a ‘tourist-strength’ form, and everybody at the gathering got to taste some. It was a ritual, and several of our fellow tourists ignored the ritual and drank without the customary greeting and thanks. I received my cup with thanks and noted that it tasted exactly how it looked: like muddy water. It had no effect on me whatsoever. Village children on Yanuya IslandAfter buying some trinkets at the local market, we got a tour round the village, past the local’s homes, the community centre, and the boarding school with its rugby pitch. The view from the beach on Yanuya IslandThis particular island was host to the neighbouring island’s rugby union team. There was a stunning vista from the beach on Yanuya and from there it was a lovely sailing back to Mana where we had another dinner at the backpacker’s restaurant where we were entertained with a fire-dancer on the beach.

 

 

 

Despite using sunscreen, I had unfortunately suffered the worst sunburn of my life on my back whilst snorkelling. It made for an uncomfortable end to my holiday, constantly having to watch what I wore and how I sat or lay down. Fish off north beachThe next day was another beautifully sunny day, and I had to clothe up to get in some more snorkelling. Fish off north beachWith the tide in, the south beach was the place to be, with a route marked out with buoys to an area rich in fish, near the ‘drop-off’ where the sea floor dropped down dramatically about 50m off the shore. Fish off north beachThere were two species of fish, one black and white like a zebra, and another a shimmering blue, who insisted on surrounding me in shoals and accompanying me as I floated near the surface watching the goings-on of the reef below me. Fish off north beachOne of the ‘zebra’ fish even tried giving me a nibble at one point. Fish off south beachAfter a while, I headed inshore and crossed the width of the island to the south beach. Fish off south beachThe tide was out on this side making it quite shallow in places, but the fish were again plentiful, and again the ‘drop-off’ was within an easy distance. Fish off south beachWith boats moored up in the area, there were ropes and anchors fixed in place, and around these swarmed large groups of catfish. There was more diversity with the fish species on this side, and aside from being so shallow in places as to risk damaging the coral, I preferred the south beach snorkelling to the north beach snorkelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infinity poolThe rest of the day was spent lounging by the infinity pool. I’m not normally one for sitting still, but with waiters bringing you food and drinks at your beck and call, it was hard not to relax, and my partner and I whiled away a large part of the day sat in the shade staring out to sea. I doubt I would have struggled to spend a second day doing exactly the same if we’d had the time. Our last night on the island, we again ate at the backpacker’s restaurant where I enjoyed a tasty prawn dish before watching some crab racing with some poor little hermit crabs. I was torn between feeling sorry for the crabs and feeling excited at the drama as the crabs unknowingly raced against each other.

Islands to the north of ManaOur final morning on Mana Island was cloudless. With some spare time before our ferry back to Viti Levu, I headed back up to the lookout overlooking the north beach to soak up the last view of the island. North beach from the lookoutI once again had the place to myself, and I enjoyed the view for as long as I could tolerate the intense sunshine. South beachOur last view of Mana was a glorious one as we were serenaded back onto the boat by what looked like most of the resort staff, Our send-offand headed off towards Castaway Island. Mana's South beachCreeping out through the narrow channel, the water was so clear, and a shade of blue that I’ve never seen before anywhere else. Looking towards Castaway & Malolo islands with the Seaspray in the foregroundPast Castaway Island, we skirted round the coast of Malolo Island, Castaway Islandone of the largest in the Mamanuca island group, and then Malolo Lailai island. Unfortunately, the closer we got to Viti Levu, the cloudier it became, and we returned to Denarau Island with the sun hidden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was too early to get into our room, so we left our luggage behind and we headed into nearby Nadi in search of some markets. We had been given some tips from one of the crew on the Seaspray, and catching the bus to the bus depot, we headed out to wander the streets. With 9 of us together, it wasn’t long before a local man took advantage of us and tried to lead us somewhere we didn’t want to go. NadiIt was exactly what we had been warned to look out for and I wasn’t having a bar of it. We regrouped in a local cafe before we decided to split up into smaller groups. My friend had had enough and wanted to go back to the hotel, so 3 of us headed back to the bus and returned to Denarau Island. As the bus headed through the streets of Nadi, I was inwardly disappointed to discover that the area that we had wanted to get to had been just 2 streets away from where we had reached. I knew I was unlikely to have time to come back to the town again, so had to accept that it had been missed.

Our last day involved a very early rise as my partner and I headed down to the Coral Coast on the south of Viti Levu. Jetboating on the Sigatoka riverOn arrival at Sigatoka, we joined a tour which took us up the Sigatoka Valley, following the Sigatoka river until eventually we arrived at a small jetty where we boarded a jet boat. Cattle on the river bankI’ve tried a lot of adventure sports and activities in my life but had yet to go jet boating. Sigatoka riverIt had never really appealed to me at all and since injuring my back last year I’ve unfortunately had to become a lot more cautious with what activities I take part in. But I’m glad I went. We tore up the river, skimming round corners and obstacles, appearing to fly at times over the water and all the while, the rolling green valleys, pastures and hills passed us by. There were plenty of locals using the river to bathe and wash their clothes as well as for their horses and cattle to bathe and drink, and we waved at them as we whizzed by. Children at the villageIt threatened to rain a couple of times but never came to much, and eventually we stopped at a village where we were shown around and then taken to the community hall for a kava ceremony and a spectacular lunch prepared by the village women. Preparing the kavaThe whole village had come to welcome us and share with us their traditions and rituals. Again, some people forgot their manners when it came to accepting the kava, and again I noted the distinct resemblance to muddy water. In fact the kava looked exactly like the river that we had just boated down on. In the end, I somehow ended up getting two helpings, but even with the double serving, I still felt no effect of the drink. Our hearty village lunchAfter a lunch of various meats, salads and fruit, we were invited to dance. Fijian dancing involves a lot of hip wiggling and is therefore quite easy to pick up. The villagers and our guide didn’t take kindly to people shying away and by the end of it all, most of us had danced several times. I wondered how much the villagers enjoyed these tourist visits and how much was down to tolerance, but Fijians just seem permanently happy and content with their lot, so perhaps it was my Westernised cynicism that was the problem.

Sigatoka ValleyFollowing some 360o spins on the jet boat, a last chance to see the Fijian countryside on the way home, and a last chance to enjoy the resort’s inviting pool, my partner and I headed to Port Denarau for our last meal. Eating at a lovely seafood restaurant on the quieter side of the marina, my fantastic fish dish was the best meal of the whole holiday. Nadi airportThe next morning, rising early, it was a short drive back to Nadi airport for the flight back to Christchurch. Leaving Viti Levu behindWe got a good view over Viti Levu as we left Fiji behind, and I mentally added this small, friendly country onto my ever-growing list of places I want to return to.

Tasman Glacier Tracks

It’s a strange concept to consider that at the time of my birth, Lake Tasman was barely in existence. The Tasman glacier in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is New Zealand’s longest glacier at 27kms in length. It is, however, undergoing a rather fast rate of retreat and experts expect that it will eventually disappear completely. In the early 1970s, pockets of melt water became evident and over successive years these pockets increased in size and eventually merged to form the lake that exists today. The presence of the lake itself speeds up the retreat of the glacier, and now in 2014, the lake is over 7km long, with the glacier retreating at a rate of 500-800m per year. Within my lifetime, the lake is expected to reach its maximum size, and even over two visits 18 months apart I can see the difference in the lake.

The road to the Tasman glacier is not far from Mt Cook village, and was upgraded a couple of years ago to make it suitable for all cars. It was previously a dirt road suitable for only 4×4 in bad weather, so the area is now much more accessible all year round. DOC SignageFrom the DOC car park, the only spot with toilets, four different track options leave from here. I had arrived very early in the morning when the sun was just reaching over the peaks of the eastern mountain range, so parts of the walk were still in shadow. Fork in the roadI headed first to the glacier viewpoint, the paths separating quite early on. Lakes vs GlacierHalfway along the left fork, the path splits again, the blue lakes one way and the glacier viewpoint the other. Boulder pathIt’s neither a long nor taxing walk with only the latter section involving some rock hopping in a section that isn’t as well marked as the rest. I had the viewpoint to myself, and it was peaceful and quiet, just how I like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake TasmanThe lake is flanked on two sides by steep mountains including the backside of Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, with steep moraine walls piled high at the lakeside, a remnant from when the glacier was deeper and longer than its current position. Mt Johnson with the Tasman glacier in frontIn the distance, the glacier was visible, covered in dirt, and at the end of the lake, a few small icebergs floated near the river which escapes through the boulders strewn across the valley, before snaking towards Lake Pukaki. Tasman ValleyThe boulders and moraine creates a barren, dirty-looking landscape which contrasts darkly against the blue-grey water of the lake. When I was here 18 months ago, there were more and larger icebergs on the lake than there were on this day. The photo on the info board at the viewpoint, taken just 3 years ago, shows a noticeable difference in position of the glacier’s terminal face which illustrates quite well the fast retreat of this glacier. Looking towards Lake Pukaki, the valley also looks barren, rocks strewn everywhere, with only the occasional hardy plant or bush poking through the debris.

The first blue lakeRetracing my steps, I headed to the blue lakes, which are now green in colour. When they were named, they were glacier fed, providing the turquoise blue colour characteristic of glacial melt water, but with the retreating glaciers, the lakes are now rain-fed, allowing algal growth which gives the green colouration. A short path leads to the shore of the first of three lakes of varying shapes and sizes. Behind them, the mountains are scarred with avalanche paths and scree slopes. I had the lakes to myself also, and followed the path round the shore of the first lake and over the brow to the second and third lakes. Third blue lakeIn places, the path is broken with short sections of rock scrabbling, but other than these points, it is an easy to follow path. A pair of ducks mulled around on the second lake. Alpine vegetationThe third lake was the largest and prettiest, especially with the sun by now reflecting off the surface giving it a brilliant blue-green colour. The area around the lakes was teeming with alpine vegetation, but unfortunately I was at least a month too early for the blooming of the colourful alpine flowers.

 

 

Rocky river roadIn stark contrast, the path to the lake side and river was a barren land of boulders and bare-looking bushes. I was surrounded by people as this path leads to the jetty where boats are boarded to tour the lake. A bus party of tourists were noisily chatting as they walked in procession along the gravel path, and I skirted round them as quickly as possible in an effort to return to some peace and quiet. BouldersAfter winding round the moraine wall, the path splits off to go to the river, and from here onwards, it is like walking through a sea of rocks.  Tasman river peeking through the rocksBoulders lie everywhere, and the river is very well hidden, deep down in the rock bed, until it appears all of a sudden as a colour contrast to the barren rocks that form its banks. Iceberg on Lake TasmanThe path ends on the moraine wall just above where the icebergs rest near the start of the river. A route down to the lake side is clear enough to follow, and I quickly headed down to the lake edge to stare directly at the icebergs at their resting spot. Iceberg graveyard on Lake TasmanThey weren’t the biggest icebergs I’ve seen, but looking at them dead on, they still provided a stunning vista as they shone in the sunlight with the snow-covered mountains beside them. Tasman riverI picked my way to the river and sat on a large rock to admire the view and watch the tourist boats pass by. Icebergs on Lake TasmanIt was a beautiful spot to sit until the flies realised I was a tasty meal. Mt Johnson with an icebergBigger than sandflies, I’m not sure what they were, but I ended up bearing the marks of multiple suckers up my arms, legs and chest for days to come. Mt CookI put up with the biting as long as I could tolerate before heading back to the car park and starting the long journey home.

 

Sealy Tarns Track

For the second time in my life, I was defeated by a mountain. Call it fear, or a self-acknowledgement of my personal limitations, but sometimes, I have to know when to quit. I’m an avid hiker, and love getting out into the wilderness and the mountains, but when it comes to tramping, there are three things that I don’t enjoy: lots of stairs, boulder scrambling, and rock faces to negotiate. I’d happily walk up a steep path than have to negotiate the monotony of flight after flight of stairs, and somehow I lose the enjoyment of a walk if I have to get down on my hands to negotiate a boulder field or haul myself up a rock face.

Mt Sefton from YHA HostelI awoke in Mount Cook village to another glorious blue sky with the sun beating down from above. Knowing how fickle the weather can be in the mountains, I got going early. From the YHA hostel in the lower village, the path snakes through to the Hermitage hotel in the upper village and near there, a shared path leads off towards various end points. This first section is the same start as that for the Hooker Valley track, but today I took the left fork towards Kea Point. Mt Sefton glistened in the morning sunlight as I headed nearer it. DOC SignageAlong the path the Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut track split off into the bushes, but I headed forth towards Kea Point which sat on the moraine bank of the Mueller glacier terminal lake. Mt Sefton, 3151mA small amount of cloud swirled around the summit of Mt Sefton and Mt Cook lay half in shadow in the distance. Mueller glacier lake with Mt Cook in the distanceThere were no kea to be seen, and only a few dedicated people were up at this time, so the viewpoint was peaceful and quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking towards Mount CookOn the return trip, the valley opened up before me, with the Hermitage hotel just poking up above the bushes. Avalanche warningBack at the start of the Sealy Tarns track, a sign warned of avalanche risk for those heading to Mueller Hut on the Sealy range. I was heading as far as the Sealy tarns, but at the back of my mind, I hoped to continue up to the hut if the conditions would allow. Stairs - lots and lots of stairsSoon after getting on to this track, the steps started. 2200 of them to be precise. The altitude gain is around 540m, and it is mostly achieved through negotiating step after step after step. Looking towards Mt Cook with the hooker glacier lake behind and the mueller glacier lake in the foregroundDespite my dislike of steps, the view is fantastic from every available vantage point. With increasing altitude, a slightly different perspective is obtained of the hooker glacier, the mueller glacier, and the valley past the village. Mt Sefton feels increasingly within reach, and there is a frequent burst of sound from avalanches cavorting down Mt Sefton’s slopes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the tarns frozen overOn this occasion, the snowline was at the level of the tarns. Some stale snow was scattered by the path just below the final gain in height, and the tarns themselves were frozen over. An avalanche waiting to happen - thick ice of Mt Sefton's slopesA picnic table has been erected to give a perfect spot to stare out at the world below. After a brief respite for fluid replenishment, I decided to give the Mueller hut track a go. On the ascent to Sealy tarns, I had met a few hikers coming down who had spent the night in the hut. They had reported that there was plenty of snow between the tarns and the hut, and that it was quite slushy in places. Mueller hut track signageBy the time I reached the tarns, a group of friends that I had met lower down on the track were disappearing into the far distance above me. Another sign warns of avalanche risk, and from here onwards, the path is narrow, rough and marked only by orange poles.

 

 

The path to Mueller Hut marked out with an orange poleIt started off innocent enough: a rough, stony path that was easy to follow, but not hugely far up was a small rock face to scramble up, and little beyond that another one. It was at this point that I started to question my sanity. I had done that one thing that no hiker should do: go off tramping without telling anyone my route plan or expected time of return. Not only that, but I was not at my peak level of fitness, and here I was, on my own with no-one to spot me, negotiating the best route up a rock face. One of the rock faces to haul upGranted, it was just a small rock face, not one that needed ropes or special equipment, but I found myself pausing to decide in my head the sense in going on. I was keen to get up to the hut, to see the view, feel the achievement in doing so, and be able to tell people I’d done it. On the other hand, my dislike (and a touch of fear) of rock scrabbling, and the thought of tackling all of this just to find out that I couldn’t get across the snow, eventually made me turn back and return to the tarns.

The frozen Sealy tarn visible from the Mueller hut trackSealy tarns sits at an elevation of 1250m, and I estimate that I gained maybe only another 50m, if that. With Mueller hut at 1800m, it would have been a long stressful hike onwards for me. Defeated, I returned to the picnic table and hoovered up my lunch, my pride slightly wounded. Mt Cook with the hooker glacier below. Mueller glacier lake in the foregroundJust 45 mins earlier, the view from the tarns had included a lot of cloud that had billowed over Mt Sefton, Mt Wakefield standing over the Mueller glacier lakebut shortly after my return, the cloud had burned off somewhat and the view was delightful. Glacier melt watersSeveral avalanches skipped down Mt Sefton’s slopes, and the full colour palette of the Mueller glacier lake was evident below. Following the Hooker river towards Lake PukakiThe amount of sediment in the water determines the colour, and there was a mix of blues and greys. Unfortunately, the alpine flowers were not yet in bloom, and I’m sure they look spectacular when the time is right. KeaTwo kea appeared to goad each other, one landing briefly near the table. Many hikers appeared, and sat for a while, and I spent around 45mins soaking up the view, reluctant to leave. Eventually though, I thought it only fair to leave the view for others, and I headed off back down the many many steps to the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CricketThis time round, with less exertion required, I could actually pay attention to the creatures and plants around me. Little birds flitted between the vegetation, some curious, some alarmed by my presence. There were crickets everywhere: brown ones near the top, and green ones lower down. I learned later at the Mount Cook visitor centre (which is well worth a visit!) that these are adaptations to the environment, and that other colours appear at other altitudes also. Heading back to the villageI also discovered at the visitor centre, that there was an ice and crampon warning for the Mueller Hut track which made me feel slightly better about my failed ascent. The path back to the villageBy the time I was near the bottom, the cloud had started to roll in again, and the summits of Mt Sefton and Mt Cook were once again shrouded. The morning is definitely the best time of the day to get out in the mountains. Edmund HillaryI reached the Hermitage hotel, and sat absorbing the sunshine, gazing over at the statue of Edmund Hillary who forever gazes towards the summit of Mount Cook.

Hooker Valley Track

I grew up in a suburb of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, inland and away from the coast. I would always enjoy trips to the beach or into the hills, but I didn’t necessarily crave them. When I left home I moved up north to Aberdeen, and spent the next 5 years of my life living by the sea. I could smell it every day, I could see it everyday, and I routinely spent evenings after work or weekends pounding the local beaches or promenade listening to the waves crashing and falling in love with the ocean. Now I think of myself as a ‘coast’ person, someone who loves living by the sea and craves to be near it. Over this same time frame, I developed a love of hiking and camping and would disappear into the mountains and hills as much as possible, scaling my first Munro (a mountain in Scotland >3000ft), and acquainting myself with as much of the nearby National Park as I could. And so I also crave for that mountain view – the sight of majestic mountains towering above and around me. Living in the Canterbury Plains, I can spy the Southern Alps on the distant horizon, and when the opportunity arises to go play amongst them I grab it with both hands.

Mount Cook Village is a small settlement nestled in a valley under the shadow of New Zealand’s largest mountain, Aoraki or Mount Cook. It sits within the National Park of the same name, and lies at the end of a long road that snakes up the western shore of Lake Pukaki. I’d been here twice before, once in winter when the snow on the ground limited the ability to go exploring, and once in autumn when it was raining and misty. I had been eager to do some hikes around here, and I was also keen to see the alpine flowers in bloom so as soon as spring hit, I made sure I could find a free weekend to go there. It is a roughly 4hr drive from Christchurch, so I arrived just after midday and set about getting ready to go for a walk.

The Hooker Valley track is the most popular walk amongst visitors and is graded as an easy walk suitable for families. It can be started from the White Horse Hill campground (an estimated 3hr return), a short drive from the village, or it can be reached from the village itself via a connecting path (an estimated 4hr return). Mt SeftonI was staying in the YHA hostel in the lower village, from where a path snakes through the village to the Hermitage hotel in the upper village. DOC sign at the start of the hike in Mt Cook VillageNear here a path leads to several hiking options: Kea Point, Hooker Valley, and up one of the mountains to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. Even from the hostel, there is an impressive view with the snow covered Mt Sefton towering over the village. There were regular sounds of crashing ice as avalanches fell down Mt Sefton’s slopes sending a cloud of snow behind it.

 

 

Aoraki/Mt Cook dominates the skylineThe initial section of the walk is through bushes, then across some open scrubland and finally over a stony dry river bed until a marker denotes a split in the path. Fork in the roadTaking the right fork, the path continues to White Horse Hill campground, where on the opposite side of the road, the start of the Hooker Valley track is evident with a domineering Mt Cook visible behind. It is a well marked and maintained walk on a mixture of gravel paths and raised boardwalks to protect the alpine plants. Despite reading that the alpine flowers would be out in spring, I was clearly early as there were none in bloom and they didn’t look close to it either. I later discovered that they wouldn’t appear till late November, meaning I was over a month too early.

Mt Sefton towers over the Mueller lakeThere were a few detours from the main path, and I chose to do these on the return leg, but after a few twists and turns, the Mueller glacier and terminal lake came into view at the foot of Mt Sefton. As with many glacier-fed lakes, the water was a cloudy grey colour due to the suspension of sediment swept down from the rocky source of the glacier, and the river draining from this lake led away from the end and started its snaking journey through the valley to eventually drain into Lake Pukaki. Crossing the Mueller riverThe first of 3 suspension bridges on this walk crossed the river, and the river bed was strewn with large boulders left behind during the last age of glaciation. I had arrived in Mount Cook to gorgeous sunshine and clear blue skies, but as often happens around mountains in the afternoon, large clouds started to roll over Mt Sefton and the neighbouring mountains and threatened to block out the sun. At this stage, Mount Cook was hidden out of view so I had no idea what view to expect at the end of the hike.

 

The second suspension bridgeThe second suspension bridge crossed the Hooker river as it tumbles down stream from the Hooker glacier, the destination of my walk. Aoraki/Mt CookShortly after this bridge, Mount Cook (thankfully not hidden by clouds) came back into view and dominated the skyline for the rest of the hike. There was the start of a lenticular cloud (my favourite type of cloud) crowning its peak, and I could see the clouds on the neighbouring mountains form and disperse as they curled over their summit. They would continue to threaten to occlude the sunlight but then wisp away at the last minute.

As such a popular walk, and being a weekend, there were a lot of people out on the track that day. A congregation of them hung around a small hut further along the track which boasted an unobstructed view of Aoraki, and this is the only place on the track (apart from the campground) where there is a toilet. A small stream trickled by, and several families milled around here. Third bridge with Mt Cook behindFurther on, the track continued through the alpine vegetation until the third suspension bridge was reached, and after this, large boulders appeared as a moraine wall was reached to demarcate the end of the glacial lake on the other side. Snaking through the boulders, an incline brought me to my first sighting of the Hooker glacier and its terminal lake on which floated some rather large icebergs.

Icebergs on Hooker glacier terminal lake with Mt CookUnfortunately, it was quite cloudy overhead, although Mt Cook’s peak remained unobscured. Icebergs in front of Mt CookThere was a picnic table at a raised viewing area, but most people headed down to the stony shore at the end of the lake and absorbed the view from there. Melting iceberg in front of Mt CookLapping at the shore were multiple smaller icebergs at the end of their melt, and the shoreline resembled an iceberg graveyard. I had previously seen these up close on a boat trip on the Tasman glacier lake and the colour and clarity of these ‘bergs are amazing. Iceberg graveyard with the Hooker glacier face evident in the background at the foot of Mt CookThe larger icebergs afloat on the lake were dirty from the moraine, and the glacier itself was barely distinguishable from the surrounding land due to the moraine deposits on the surface. Dirty icebergsPrevious to my first up-close view of a glacier in Chile, I’d always thought of glaciers being pristine white from the snow and ice, but aside from the Perito Moreno glacier in Chile, every glacier I’ve seen since has appeared dirty, covered in a layer of sediment and debris chucked up from the valley walls as the glacier moves down the mountainside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sat for a long time on the lake shore, blocking out the noises of other people and just soaking up the view and inhaling it all. Eventually, the clouds started to build up and some spots of rain could be felt. It was also exceedingly windy at the shoreline, and eventually, I decided to head back. I left just as the summit of Aoraki disappeared behind the cloud. The route back retraced the same route I had come by, but I followed the detours as they appeared. Mt Cook viewed through the hut windowFirstly, there was a little tarn which is the name given to mountain lakes that have formed in an excavation created by a glacier. Stocking stream next to the hutI investigated the hut that I’d ignored on the way up, and wandered along the edge of the stream at its side. Hooker river pounding down streamThe view on the way back was towards Mount Cook Village and the Hooker river snaking down the valley towards Lake Pukaki. Looking towards Lake Pukaki in the far distanceThe cloud had by now passed over the summit of Mt Sefton and hidden it from view, and was threatening to dump some rain on the village.

 

 

 

 

Scree slope near Mueller Lake lookoutThere were a couple of viewpoints that I had skipped past on the way there, giving alternate views over the Mueller glacier and its terminal lake, and nearer the campground was a memorial erected to remember those that had succumbed in the mountains. Memorial to MountaineersIt was originally erected to remember two particular adventurists who had perished in an avalanche in 1914, but since then further plaques have been erected to remember those who had come to strife since. Plaques of remembranceIt was sad to read how young many of them were, and there was a definite trend relating to the location of several of the deaths. Even for the highly trained and experienced, these are dangerous and unpredictable mountains to play in.

The final detour was to Freda’s rock. As unassuming a rock as it was, it marked the spot where an explorer called Freda Du Faur had had her photo taken after becoming the first woman to ascend Mount Cook in 1910. This was at a time when it was frowned upon for an unmarried woman to spend the night in the company of a man, never mind go mountaineering. From here, it was a short walk back to the campground and then along the same path back to the Hermitage and the village where a warm shower and a nice cold cider awaited.

Blood Moon

October 8th 2014 saw a lunar eclipse visible in the skies above New Zealand. I don’t have a fancy expensive camera, but it was still a beautiful thing to watch the moon turn red.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Antarctica

There’s one continent on Earth that I am yet to reach: the little-known, little explored, white continent at the bottom of the planet. Growing up with the BBC’s stunning natural history series’ I have long dreamed of visiting there, but since moving to Christchurch, New Zealand 3 years ago, the country’s gateway to Antarctica, I have yearned for it even more. The city hosts the US Antarctic Survey as well as offices for a few other countries, and it is from this very city that scientists, photographers, videographers, and a lot of support staff head off each spring, and return to at the end of their contract. I’m insanely jealous.

Every IceFest in Cathedral Squaretwo years, Christchurch hosts New Zealand IceFest, a celebration of all things Antarctica, and a chance to demonstrate the city’s connection with the continent as well as an opportunity for Joe Public to experience in some little respect what goes on down there. With so many Antarcticans (as they like to call themselves) around the city, I’ve found myself becoming a bit of a groupie, attending talks, open days and soaking up the atmosphere.

Huskies pulling the tramThere was a good turn-out for the opening ceremony which involved a team of huskies pulling one of Christchurch’s famous trams through Cathedral Square. Lady Hillary (Edmund Hillary's wife)On board the tram was the city’s mayor, Christchurch Mayor Leanne Dalziel, and Lady HillaryLady June Hillary (Sir Edmund Hillary’s wife) and a team of children dressed up as penguins. The ice 'ribbon'Awaiting their arrival at the specially erected Signage at the IceFest HubIceFest Hub was an icy ribbon to be ‘cut’, or in this case, hacked at with an ice pick. Ice sculptingNearby, an ice sculptor made some impressive sculptures of an emperor penguin and an Eskimo sculptureEskimo out of a block of ice. Hagglund in Cathedral SquareIn the vicinity there was an exhibition of One of the Antarctic photography exhibitsAntarctic photography as well as a Hagglund (snow mobile) on display.  I attended a talk comparing aspects of the Arctic and the Antarctic, given by two people that had spent a combined 26yrs between them at that great continent at the bottom of the world. I listened in awe to their tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of many huskies at the sled dog races, hagley ParkThe following day there was sled dog racing set up at Hagley Park, where local and national competitors came to display aspects of the sport. Sled dog racingIt was rather cold and windy, and many of the dogs were easily distracted from their race but it was lovely to see so many huskies amongst many other breeds, showing off their racing skills. That afternoon, I attended a talk from 4 speakers (including Anthony Powell who has made a name for himself filming for the BBC amongst other things) who had ‘wintered over’ in Antarctica many times. They jovially described the humourous and unusual aspects of life effectively stranded in a land with no daylight for 4 months of the year, in a small community on the ice. Having previously viewed Anthony Powell’s amazing movie Antarctica: A Year on Ice last year, I had an idea of what they were talking about, but as they said, it must be an experience that is hard to describe and hard for others to fully comprehend. Like when I watched the movie last year, I listened to their stories and imagined it could be possible for me to get there too one day. So few of us in the world will ever have the privilege of spending much, or indeed any, time on Antarctica, and I really recommend the movie to give some insight on what happens down there.

Kevin & Jamie's Antarctic ExpeditionPeople in New Zealand may be aware of a tv programme called ‘First Crossings’ made by two men, Kevin and Jamie, who recreated many of the country’s first explorations through remote parts of the country. Kevin Biggar's bookSeveral years ago, they also walked to the South Pole in the first unsupported and unsupplied Kiwi attempt. I’ve found their tv show fascinating, but listening to them in person, they were very compelling speakers. It takes a special person to make tales of starvation, blisters and utter determination a funny yarn, and they captivated the audience and had us in stitches throughout the show. I had previously bought the book of their expedition, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, and they managed to persuade me to get started with it.

 

 

The cargo entrance to the US Air Force planeOne of the big events on the IceFest calendar was the Antarctic Air Day out at the airport. Hooks on the inside wall of the planeLarge air force planes from the US Air Force and the NZ Air Force take off from here during the summer season loaded with people and freight to head south to the airfield that services both Scott Base (NZ) and McMurdo Station (US). Fold-up seats on the wall of the planeOn this day, there were 3 planes on the tarmac opened up to the public to allow an insider’s view into the behemoths of the sky. The roof of the US Air Force planeIt was reported on the news that evening that 7000 people turned up and queued to get their turn to wander through the planes and see inside the cockpit. Breathing apparatusThe larger plane belonging to the US Airforce has a flying time to Antarctica of 5hrs, whereas the slightly smaller plane belonging to the NZ Air Force gets there in about 7-8hrs. 2 massive jet enginesThe inside of both planes is nothing like a commercial jet (which was also available for a wander through), and every inch of wall space was taken up with wires or switches or hooks or safety devices. US Air Force planeI can’t begin to imagine the noise that must emulate from these planes on the long, packed and potentially uncomfortable flight. Cockpit of the US Air Force planeThe cockpits were a mass of computer instrumentation and the planes are capable of landing in a variety of weather conditions, including in complete darkness. Gents & Ladies toilets on the NZ Air Force planeWhilst we queued to wander through, A valuable inclusion on the NZ Air Force planemembers of both country’s airforces were on hand to answer questions and describe what it is like to work and fly in these massive planes, as well as their trips to Antarctica.Royal New Zealand Air Force plane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Antarctic CentreAcross the road outside the International Antarctic Centre, one of the city’s family attractions, a myriad of stalls and activities had been set up outside to entertain the kids. Sealion ice sculptureThere were Hagglund (snow mobile) rides, mock up Antarctic tents, ice sculpting, and the chance to enter the passenger terminals of the US and NZ Antarctic Programs, a privilege usually only for those flying down there. Taking a selfie for AntarcticaThere was even the opportunity to dress up in some of the many layers of Antarctic clothing to have your photo taken. It was a beautifully sunny day which helped to bring out the crowds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon, I headed back to the IceFest hub in Cathedral Square to attend a couple of talks relating to the use of dogs on the ice in the past, and some of the speakers had been on the ice in the 60s when it was still commonplace to use and train dogs for service and transport. It was clear to see that many Antarctic ‘veterans’ were in town to visit and many of them shared their stories of their time on the ice. IceFest Hub at NightThat night, I headed back to Cathedral Square with my chair and jacket to attend an open-air screening of Anthony Powell’s epic movie Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Anthony Powell Q & AThis was my third time seeing the movie, and it still brings out the same emotions every time I watch it. Anthony himself was there for a Q&A afterwards, and it was a good turnout and was exceedingly well received. Two weeks into the IceFest and I’m still very much a groupie, and still very much in love with the continent that remains just outside my grasp.

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