Friday, January 15, 2016

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The more I re-read my journal from the last time I was in New Zealand the more I look forward to our next trip. I'm sure, Ninja, the rottweiler, will love living here while we are gone too!

Sooo wavy flashback lines as we travel back to 2003...

Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, New Zealand, 2003


Somewhere over the Rainbow

Dorothy traveled "somewhere over the rainbow" to get to Oz and at the end of April 2003 I think I found the Rainbow.  Well, the Rainbow Warrior to be precise.  It was a choppy day and the boat trip out was two hours long.  Arriving at the dive site, shaken but not stirred, we donned our wet-suits and hit the water.  It was a cool nineteen degrees Celsius which was a whole ten or so degrees colder than what I’d been used to in Cairns.  So when I jumped in, one of the first to do so, I squealed so much from the shock of the "cold" water that I scared the other divers.  

The wreck was twenty-four meters down, and it was beautiful.  Covered in jewel anemones which were literally every color of the rainbow, this was one Warrior still fighting to be a Rainbow.  We went into one of the cabins, briefly, because I was a bit of a scary cat at this point. There were hundreds of nocturnal fish hanging out waiting for the sun to go down.  It was a bit freaky because it was dark and there were so many. They were like the marine versions of bats/vampires. Perhaps I was narked. I spent longer than I really should have down there and got back on the ship with only ten bars in my tank.  It was just too hard to leave.  I hadn't really been that into diving wrecks before but I think this may have converted me somewhat, though I still find it a bit creepy and ghoulish.  It’s like walking around graveyards.

We arrived back to Auckland that night where we visited the sky tower and then ended up in the casino bar.  I don’t know how that happened.  We were sitting for a while watching all the people gambling and I was just saying to Fiona, "Where the hell do all these people get money to literally throw away?" and then in the next breath I found myself saying, "Let's put twenty dollars in each and play till it’s gone".  So that's how all these people must do it.  Seeing as how I taught Fiona how to kayak, she decided to teach me how to play Black Jack.  It was a fair trade.  To cut a long story short, we lost all our money, but as Fiona pointed out, it took us an hour to lose it.

We traveled south from Auckland on the Kiwi Experience.  It was an early start, as usual. This adventuring lark was hard work.

We stopped at a beach called Hot Water Beach, where we were told you simply dig up the sand to find hot springs underneath, so you get your own hot pools.  At the start, we weren’t having much luck. About ten of us dug around randomly, sticking a foot in the hole to see if it was hot.  The beach looks as though it had been attacked by giant prairie dogs.  However, there were actually only two hot springs.  The power of advertising had led us to believe these things simply covered the beach, but it was fun and a good opportunity to get chatting to the rest of the folk on the bus, about twenty-five people in total.

Fantastic scenery surrounded us all the way. Unfortunately, the weather turned so we couldn't go kayaking in Cathedral Cove.  It was said to be "some of the best kayaking on the planet" quoted from the same book that told us about Hot Water Beach.

We had begun to realize that we simply couldn't do everything, and there was so much to do here that we had to make difficult choices.  We were given the option of carving a bone pendant in traditional Maori style, but I decided to be boring and went to the hairdresser  – backpackers are people too you know! Afterwards, all gorgeous, of course, I met Fiona in the pub where we ate a mountain of green-lipped mussels for the equivalent of three quid each.

Again we were up early the next day and we all grumbled in a good-natured way getting on the bus.  We were all getting to know one another and the group was good craic even if a little young – nineteen to twenty-three year-olds. I felt a bit like the aunty on the bus.  The driver told us about each town that we would be going to as we drove along and every time he mentioned Taupo my heart missed a beat.  That was where we planned to skydive.  It was weather dependent, but it was now striking fear into my heart. I'd run out of excuses as to why I hadn't already done a sky dive, except for the obvious one – That jumping out of perfectly good plane twelve thousand feet in the air was just plain nuts.  It looked like I was going to be doing it, and soon.  We were due to arrive in Taupo the next day.

For the moment, I was content to soak in some more hot springs and maybe treat myself to a massage.  Thinking about skydiving was just so stressful.  Fiona often said, "Don't sweat the small stuff.”  So did that mean it was time to start sweating?

What a nail-biting time we had trying to get our skydive fitted in.  We stopped in Taupo, booked it and waited for our lift the first afternoon.  It was so nerve-racking, that I hadn't been able to eat all day.  As soon as our driver came to collect us telling us that it was cancelled, hunger crashed down upon us, and we went for another feed of green-lipped mussels.

The next afternoon, we were brought out to the airport and shown the video.  Personally I think that this was cruel as it only served to heighten our anxiety.  I preferred the idea of going about the skydive BA Baracus - style, (ref: the A Team) whereby I get knocked unconscious until the bit where I am shoved out of the plane by my tandem buddy. 

We were told we had ten minutes to go, and Fiona and I set up a relay race back and forth to the toilets.  Then, just as we were about to get into the lovely red "Jump" suits the sky clouded over and the jump was cancelled.  After we had our complimentary muffins to abate the whoosh of starvation that engulfed us, we were brought back to our hostel and we retired early to bed under the conviction that our rescheduled jump at seven thirty am would be third time lucky.

At seven am I rang the skydive center.  The weather was awful and the skydive was cancelled, so we had a big fry-up for breakfast.

Later on, back on the Kiwi Bus, we traveled down to Wellington for an overnight stop and then on to the ferry for the trip to the South Island.  Our bus had been whittled down to a core group of eight of us who got on very well together.  Whilst on the three-hour-long ferry trip we devised a great game.  Sarah, a crazy nineteen-year-old American girl, had a digital camera. She would set off and take a photo of some random punter on the boat, then come back and show us the picture.  We seven had to split up and see who could find him in the shortest time.  It was hilarious.  We also had a breath choking moment when one of the guys, Steve, wanted to know where exactly in the South Island Mordor was?  He thought it was a real place.  But he did add he wasn't expecting there to be a big ring of fire over the mountain as in the movie.  Hours later we stopped laughing.

In Nelson, we picked up a full bus, and made lots more new pals.  This included two other Irish guys one from Monaghan, Seamus, and the other from Dublin, Ian.  The bus was quite entertained, and baffled, by the constant slagging we gave each other  – all in good humour.

We stopped at a beautiful coastal national park called Able Tasman and I went on a kayak trip.  Unfortunately, I managed to land myself with the only "unpleasant" person on our bus, a rather sour English girl who really did not appreciate my navigation skills.

Okay, so I went the wrong way.  It was a fifty-fifty chance.  Anyway, despite the obvious sour milk which, I couldn't detect, but which must have been floating around if my humorless Kayak buddy's face was anything to go by, it was a beautiful kayak trip.  Lots of big rock formations and interesting little islands, and some submerged rocks, which must have been where the milk was spilled, perhaps by another boat that had previously grounded on them, just as we had.

But my personal highlight for this section was the Horse Riding.  Fiona was going horse riding. If Fiona was going to jump out of a plane, then so was I. Thus it followed that despite an allergy to horses, I was going horse riding too.  Tanked up on anti-histamine, we set off in our welly-boots looking suitably “horsey-set” to find our mounts.  Fiona's horse was a rather grumpy black mare called Lady who kicked any other horse that got too close, much to Fiona's horror.  My horse was a frisky little mare called Pixie.  She liked to eat grass all the time but we soon learned who was boss.  She was.  So we got grass reins to stop her guzzling and off we went.

Even before I’d gotten on the horse, I was surprised at how scared I was of them.  They were very big and tended to look down their noses at me.  This more due to their anatomy than their attitude, but it still unnerved me.  I was not comforted by the guide's advice to calm down once I was on Pixie because “...horses can tell if you are nervous...”  I guess it was those shaking knees at her shoulders that gave it away.

Pixie and I came to a tentative agreement.  She could go whatever way she wanted so long as it she followed the other horses.  The best bit was having a go at cantering.  We started by learning to trot.  I found it a very bumpy and ungainly form of transport. The next stage, actually cantering, was more of a rocking motion.  It brought me back to my old rocking horse.  We’d had the best rocking horse a kid could ever want, and as a child I’d traveled all across the plains of North America with my rocking horse and my imagination.  Now, I was approximating that for real.  It was a wonderful feeling. 

The following day we went to Franz Joseph.  This was another skydive venue up in the mountains with spectacular glaciers.  So, as we were staying for two nights, Fiona and I put our names down for the Heli-Hike on the glacier and the sky dive.  Guess what – the sky dive was cancelled.  The Heli-Hike involved a trip in a helicopter on to the glacier and a two-hour hike with some ice climbing and exploring ice caves too.  We couldn't wait.  Alas, that morning it too was cancelled.  Fiona threatened that if she did not get to do her skydive in New Zealand, she was going to jump out of the Air New Zealand plane on the way to Australia.

At this stage serendipity called.  We decided to walk the five mile round trip to the glacier to have a look.  Well, I hate walking, so the plan changed to hitch hiking and as there were two of us, we felt safe.  We got a lift in a ‘64 Daimler driven by a ZZ top reject who was really nice.  We had a look at the glacier.  The up-side to having our booking for the helicopter cancelled due to rain was that we were treated to the most stunning rainbows across the glacier.  You simply can't pre-book a rainbow.

The scenery was heart-achingly beautiful. I wished I was spending more time here. 

We decided to hitch hike back to the hostel and two English girls stopped to give us a lift.  They mentioned they were going to the Glacier in the next valley and we asked could we go too.  It was even more beautiful and the four of us had a great day together.  They were teachers on a career break too.  We planned to meet up with them in Wanaka the next night.  That’s where we would make our fifth attempt at a sky dive or Fiona was going to be requesting the emergency exit on her flight to Australia!
Fiona and I enjoying the signage at Fox Glacier, New Zealand, 2003

Byddi Lee

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