25th and 26th September 2011
Finally pulling into Montrose Backpackers around 5pm, we checked in and went to sort out the glacier hike.
We were both keen to do the full day vs the half day, $180 vs $123. I was a bit concerned about my cough but since I was feeling much better I figured what the hell. Talking with the girls at the desk it seemed that the same infliction had been working its way through all the guides as well. Technically they were full but they managed to find another guide and we were both signed up. I was also comforted by the fact that we didn’t all go in one group but rather were split up into 5 groups depending on physical ability. I was pretty set on number 5, Andre was leaning towards number 2.
We grabbed some lunch and heading back to the hostel. We decided to head to the pub for dinner and also to catch the much anticipated Scotland vs Argentina rugby game (it was a deciding factor as to which team would make it through). We opted to split a large pizza that was half meat lovers and bbq sauce and half lamb and mediterranean veggies, delicious!
2 of the staff from the hostel joined us to watch the game. They were both scots and we spent a lot of time yelling at the TV. It was a great game and we had it down pat when out of nowhere in the last 5minutes Argentina scored a try. They were leading by 1 point with 2minutes to go when Scotland got a chance for a drop kick and…. missed. I thought Arlene, the hostel manager, was going to tip the table upside down. Instead she went and got herself a large vodka on the rocks.
The next day was an early rise for the glacier hike. I had started hacking again and was rather concerned about hiking up a glacier in this state. But the weather was absolutely drop dead gorgeous and a guide I spoke to said she would probably do it even with the cough as they never get perfect days like this.
So, feeling much more confident, I set out to get all my gear: boots, socks, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, gloves and hat. I felt quite the adventurer or maybe it was more like the michelin man. Andre and I joked about how my group, number 5, will most likely be all the Asian tourists who like to stop and take tons of photos… I think we may be psychic!
Finally our 8.15am departure group left at 9.15am, turns out there were a few who hadn’t brought lunch or anything, love the unorganised. We headed the 10minute drive to the glacier and did a short hike through the forest surrounding the glacial plain. Once we arrived we were given an introduction and then separated into groups.
Saying cheers to Andre I headed for group 5 and it was soon obvious that the 10 Chinese tourists were in my group… sometimes I hate being right. But it was all good and we even tried chatting now and then. After the guide asked them to stop taking pics we were able to head out and start the walk. I had mentioned to the guide that I maybe should have done the 1/2 day as I really did worry if my cough would handle this. She radioed but said the half days were full and to see how I felt further up the plain. I was getting really worried, as I hacked one lung and then the other, my chest really hurt and with no one who really spoke English to encourage me, I felt this might turn into a miserable experience.
As I have mentioned before, I am ashamed to say that I am not a happy sick person…
Just before we crossed the yellow ropes that led to the switchbacks up to the glacier, Jess our guide took one look at me and said “I am turning you back now, you won’t make it and this way you get a full refund”. She also pointed out that when she asked if anyone had seen a glacier before I had said that I lived in Alaska for 6mths, so at least I had seen one. I hate to admit that I was grateful but also felt like a failure. I had really thought I could make it, but considering it would have been close to 20km of hiking with half of it fairly vertical, I am not sure if I would have managed easily even if I wasn’t sick.
Heading back I felt a bit defeated, this wasn’t helped by the guide of a half day group who said to his folks “stand back, move aside, let her pass”, its not like I had the plague for pete’s sake.
Heading back to the carpark for my 11am pickup I was able to enjoy the beauty of the plain.
Just before 11am, the company’s bus pulled up and I went to get in. The driver looked very confused and said he didn’t even know I was here. Apparently the message hadn’t got through. No worries though and soon I was back in town. I got my full refund after ensuring the manager over and over again that I did not cross some magical yellow ropes.
I decided to pop into the Kiwi Center at the end of town. It was $25 and normally I would never pay that much, but it all went to conservation and considering how endangered these unique birds are, I figured what the heck. Plus it gave my wounded ego a bit of a boost.
The center was actually quite remarkable. They use monitoring equipment to track the birds and tell them when eggs have been laid. Then they collect the eggs and raise them in the center for the first year, upon which they are released with a much higher survival rate. Left to their own devices, about 95% of the chicks die within the first year due to predators like stoats and possums. However, through this project 95% of them survive.
The center provides valuable information and the best part is the nocturnal room. Here there are 2 1yr old kiwis, that will shortly be released, kept in enclosures separated from you by a low fence. You could almost reach in and touch them, which you wouldn’t do of course. They were amazing! I mean, I was expecting something unique, but these guys were just brilliant, and their fine feathers looked almost like hair. Kiwi eggs also take up 2/3’s of the females body mass and looks like a mini ostrich egg. I watched them for a good time utterly bemused and then finally wandered off to the exhibit about the glacier. The entry fee permitted 24hrs entrance, so I planned to return later or in the morning. The glacier exhibit was really interesting but the best part was the video about the Kea’s, an alpine parrot renowned for its intelligence and mischievous behaviour. In the video you see them pretty much dismantle a tourist’s car, pulling apart mirrors, removing the rubber window seals and much more. Good thing to keep in mind when you see them.
I decided to do some more searches for tickets to Germany. So far I had been searching on and off for about 2 weeks and every ticket I found involved at least a 10hr layover in New Delhi airport. Not something I relished, no matter how impressive the airport might be. I already have a 10hr layover in Bangladesh when I fly to Kathmandu. I settled into the internet cafe and casually began searching and checking email. With about 3minutes left to go I found a ticket with no layover and a decent price, I had barely 2.5minutes to lock it in and pay for it. Made it just barely. Woohoo I am going to Germany!!
Back at the hostel Andre returned and looked very concerned when he saw me. He had got on the bus and couldn’t find me and none of the guides knew about me leaving. At the office one of the girls said I had returned but he didn’t know details. Shame, so sweet! But all was good and we figured out our plan for the evening. Laundry, dinner and rugby at the backpacker pub. I still had leftover pizza from the night before so was covered on food. At the pub we met up with Lissy and Rune who had also been on the glacier that day and watched Wales annihilate Namibia and 3 Welsh lads annihilate shot after shot. During the 2hrs we were at the pub, they had about 3 pints of beer each, and 3 shots each of “3 Wisemen on acid” and “Cocksucking Cowboy” (excuse my language). I don’t have any idea whats in them and don’t think I ever want to. I think those boys are going to feel it in the morning, and it looked they had no intention of stopping as we headed out the door.
It was an early night as everyone, apart from me, had just spent 10hrs on a glacier and hiked a good 20km.
This morning we planned to head to Christchurch, but first we stopped in at the Kiwi center. Luckily I had fished the arm band out of hte trash but the front staffed remembered me regardless, so I didn’t have to pay again. Once more the Kiwi’s astounded me, I think I could sit and watch them for hours. Then we met Lissy and Rune for coffee and finally hit the road. Our journey was going to take us back up over Hope Saddle towards Greymouth. Just before we would turn right and head over the midlands on Arthurs Pass, the mountain pass that takes you through the Southern Alps. It lies in the saddle between the Otira and Bealey rivers.You can take a train along this pass as well.
We stopped for lunch and met up with one of the girls from the glacier office, actually, the one who had given me my refund. She was hitching to Arthur’s Pass and was very excited that we could give her a ride. After some yummy grub at the all natural and organic cafe we headed out towards the pass. The scenery was breathtaking, and if the weather hadn’t been so crappy on the way up there were some definite photos stops we would have stopped at.
The mountains rose up on either side of us and the rain obscured out visibility as we made us way up the windy road. Eventually we broke through the cloud bank and were thrust into a stunning landscape.
Leaving our passenger in the town of Arthur’s Pass we headed onwards towards Christchurch. The scenery just got better and at one stop we got to see the Kea’s. I had so hoped to see them in the wild and had thought missing the glacier hike meant I would not get the chance.
It was amazing seeing how the topography changed and even more interesting being able to chat to Andre about the geology and the rock formations.
All to soon we pulled into Christchurch and up to the hostel. Even 8mths after the earthquake you can still see the devastation on the edges of town, and downtown is completely fenced off.
Saying farewell to Andre, we parted company and he headed off to see family and I got checked in to the Kiwi Base hostel. It was great traveling with Andre and I hope to grab a beer with him in the future, hopefully over a fire in the game park back in SA.
The hostel was still doing earthquake repairs here and there and occasionally you had to side step past a repairman. I was meant to be in a top bunk, but fluttering my eyelashes and looking miserable, I convince a young english lad to trade. I made him dinner for compensation and he seemed quite happy with that. Chatting with the other backpackers and watching the rugby made the night quite complete. Tomorrow I would be starting my full South Island tour with Magic bus. So off to bed to try get to sleep before my roommates and hopefully spare them the worst of my hacking cough.
I great trip so far and the main part of it is yet to come.