Monday, November 12, 2007

Things I Did When I Gave Up Looking for Frodo, Part Three

And now, for the final installment of my 2006 New Zealand trip review. When I last left off, my husband and I were in the northern part of the South Island. We realized that if we stuck to our original itinerary, we would completely miss the Franz Josef Glacier, so we scrambled to cancel our hotel reservations in Christchurch on the east side of the island and instead headed west. Neither of us had ever been on a glacier before, so we had no idea what to expect. I was excited at first because it looked like we were about to head off into Mordor. Unfortunately I did not have the One Ring with me to destroy.

The snow that you can see in between the mountains is the start of the glacier. It may look like it was fairly close, but it actually took an hour to reach!

To prepare to finally climb up on the ice, we all put on talons/clamps over our boots so as to not slip. The guides ran ahead to make sure the "stairs" were ready for us... they basically took their ice picks and hacked away at the trail before the rest of us followed to ensure that the path wasn't too icy. As you can see below, it was an almost completely vertical climb up (climbers are the line going up in the middle). On the steps there was a rope we could hold on to, but once we reached the top we were on our own. Anywhere I travel outside of the U.S., I always marvel at the fact that you can do things where you could easily be injured or killed, and you don't have to sign any release forms. It just goes to show how sue-happy this country is. Whereas in New Zealand, they're like: If you're dumb enough to step over the edge of a cliff, it's your own fault. I can't say I disagree.

Once up on the glacier, it was pretty amazing. The bad part was that it started pouring rain and never let up. While all of the other gear the hiking company provided was awesome, for some unknown reason the gloves they gave us were seriously that crappy kind that you can buy at Walgreens for $2. You know what I'm talking about--they're made of thin cotton and should truthfully never be used except perhaps under REAL gloves. They got soaked within the first ten minutes and actually made our hands feel much worse, so we were up there running around on the snow and ice in the freezing, pouring rain with bare hands. That part was NOT fun. If you ever go, take my advice and bring your own waterproof gloves--you'll thank me later.

While I thought that walking around on a glacier was going to be just that, it was actually quite physically demanding. You cannot be even the slightest bit overweight and do this hike, or else you will literally not fit through some of the passages. Below is a trail they carved out through a wall of ice, but at another point we were crawling through a frozen tunnel on our bellies, no lie. Not something for the claustrophobic!

After we had survived Franz Josef, we drove on to the last stop on our trip, Queenstown. We stayed at an awesome apartment right on Lake Wakatipu, which looked out at The Remarkables and an area called Deer Park Heights, at which many of the Rohan scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed (covered in this post). What happened when we weren't posing for pictures at the various movie scene sites was that I got attacked by goats.

What can I say? I'm like Snow White, animals just flock to me. Or perhaps it was that I had a huge bucket of food (you can buy them throughout the farm area).

The finale of our trip was a cruise through Milford Sound. When people talk about how beautiful New Zealand is, this area is one of the best examples of its awe-inspiring scenery. It was the perfect way to end the vacation.

I hope you've all enjoyed my walk down memory lane. I promise I won't take a full year to post pictures of my next trip...

- e

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