Blessed to be a witness

Friday, 9th September

Bored of scenery


We stayed in Wanaka, the name of which can look a little rude if one doesn't glance at the signs with due attention; in particular 'Wanakafest'. A pretty little lakeside town, rather similar to Queenstown, but not as extreeeem. We'd booked a motel with "internet access in every room", according to the brochure. While in Oz we had succumbed to the draw of Harvey Norman and bought a new laptop, and I wanted to update this travelogue and sort out the billing problems that caused a 24-hour outage to the site the other day. After checking in and paying, I asked about the internet access. "Oh yeah, there's a socket in the back of the telephone and you can plug your modem in there and dial the usual way," said the woman at reception.

"Hmm. Well, while technically there is internet access, what you really mean is you have a telephone in every room, something one can even get in backpacker hostels. I feel your advertising is completely misrepresentative and I want my money back!" I didn't scream angrily, before not storming out. Instead, in fine English tradition, I meekly said "thanks", kept my mouth shut and slunk off quietly, annoyed, to the internet café round the corner.


We spent an uneventful night there, enjoying listening to a pub quiz in the local Irish pub, though we were too late to enter it. The next day we headed through more stunning valleys and past gorgeous lakes. We hit the west coast and the Tasman Sea, last viewed from the boat in Milford Sound. The vegetation was very different here - dense scrub blown into wind-scraped shapes, with ancient looking trees sticking out of it. I can only imagine the nightmare the first European settlers, as well as the Maoris, must have had trying to negotiate the woods round here. The sea crashed up a beach, making a fine mist through the trees. It was stunning.

Dull dull dull

We finally arrived in the little settlement of Franz Josef, below the famous glacier, which together with its brother Fox Glacier about 25 kilometres south, is one of New Zealand's only two active glaciers. Thanks to the skiing, my back by this time was absolutely agonising, and driving for hours on end wasn't helping it. We therefore booked into a motel with a bath so I could lie in hot water, the only thing that seemed to relieve the pain. You pay for what you get, so we coughed up double what we normally pay for accommodation, and in return got a chalet with satellite TV, a DVD player, a kitchen and a spa bath. Rather lovely, and we saved at least $10 by cooking our own food, by which false economy I attempted to justify the expense.

Just a bunch of ice coming down a mountain

The next day we got up early, because it was a good five hours back to Christchurch, where we had to drop off the car at 4 pm, and headed to the glacier. A 45-minute walk took us across a wide, scoured valley and the glacier's face. Had we more money we could have taken a helicopter to the top and jumped around on it, but instead we looked at the bottom of it, and the roaring river of meltwater pouring out of it, and went "wow". This is the closest we'd come to a glacier, since the Rongbuk one at Everest wasn't anywhere near Base Camp. It's one thing to read about glaciation and its effects on the landscape, but to view the 50-metre high leading edge of one, and to see the weight and astonishing forces at work, gives a new perspective on the slow, rock-shattering, boulder-mashing power of these slowly moving rivers of ice.

One thing we've been doing to make long journeys a little more palatable is to download 'podcasts' - episodes of radio programmes - from the BBC, load them onto my MP3 player, and then use a little transmitter gadget to play them via the in-car radio. However, this day we had listened to them all and no new ones were available, and out in the middle of nowhere there is no radio, so, in the words of Paul Simon, I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine. At one point, M looked up at the astonishing vista unfolding in front of us, and said "I'm bored of scenery." She didn't mean it, of course, but South Island is so amazingly stunning, with wonders around every corner, that though it sounds churlish, there's only so much beauty one can take before one becomes a trifle inured to it.

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