30 November 2011

my updated wish list

In 2007 I made a travel wish list and I’ve been lucky…some of the places I managed to visit from that list
- Barcelona
- New Zealand
- Paris, France
- China
now its time to write a new wish list…
- Machu Picchu, Peru (and this could happen next year!!!)
- East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania
- Madhya Pradesh, India
- Bali
- Costa Rica
- Japan
- South Africa
- Sikkim and East India
- Bhutan
- Novi Sad, Serbia
- Sri Lanka
- Israel and Jordan
- Vietnam and Cambodia

25 November 2011

Franz Josef & Heli-Hike- NZ March ‘11

We were quite excited that morning as we left early from Fox Glacier town to go to Franz Josef for our heli-hike – an awesome scenic helicopter flight over the Franz Josef glacier that would then leave us high up for a 2 hrs guided walk amongst the ice caves and pinnacles of ice.

Grey clouds over Franz JosefThe weather didn’t look too great…there was a drizzle and it was soooo grey. But we hoped that it would clear up soon. When we reached the Heli Hike office at 8:45 we were informed that the trip had been postponed and they would give an update an hour later. We hung around the office but that update kept getting postponed. I watched as the glacier which we could see in the morning, was now covered with dark clouds. Short bursts of rain, then the sun would peek out for a few minutes and then drizzle again. We decided to walk around a bit and I kept everyone entertained with my weather predictions – the clouds seem to have moved an inch and we can now see the glacier from here…now its hidden again!!! What a game of peek-a-boo!!!!

IMG_2539We decided to explore the place a bit to kill time. There seemed to some kind of an exhibition on the formation of glaciers with very nicely made paintings – and one depicting Maori Legend on the formation of the Franz Josef glacier really caught my eye.

Hine Hukatere, as adventurous Maori maiden who loved mountaineering above all her other pastimes, frequently persuaded her lover, Legend on formation of Franz JosefWawe, to accompany her on escapades into the hills. On one such expedition the unfortunate Wawe, who had never been found of climbing as his sweetheart, slipped and plunged to an early death. Heartbroken, Hine Hukatere cried - her tears were frozen by the gods as a memorial to her grief, thus forming Franz Josef Glacier or Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere (The tears of Hinehukatere)

IMG_2543A forest walk marked a little ahead seemed like a good idea as by now we were worried that the hike may get cancelled. Walking in the forests in a light drizzle with the sounds of birds made us forget our woes for some time at least. I am sure I heard a Kiwi, though Stephen was not quite convinced since Kiwis are nocturnal… maybe the dark clouds and grey weather had confused him!!!

Returning from the walk we stopped at a cute church, outside which I read some more Maori Mythology - according to which four sons of Raki (the Sky Father) came down to greet their father’s new wife Papa-tua-nuku (The Earth Mother) in a canoe known as Te Waka o Aoraki. The karakia (incantation), which have returned them to their celestial home failed and the waka (canoe) fell back into the sea. It turned on its side and was turned to stone and earth, thus forming the South Island! Aoraki and his brothers clambered to the high side of the waka and were turned into mountains. Aoraki became Mt Aoraki/ Mt Cook, Rakiroa became Mt Dampier, Rakirua became Mt Teichelmann and Rarakiroa became Mt Tasman.

IMG_2552Lunch at a small café which had some amazing 3D paintings and still more amazing burgers!!

We were now informed that the heli-hike had been cancelled but since they were doing the glacier walks we could change to that. After considering all the options, we called our agent. Our itinerary had been changed a bit due to the Christchurch earthquake so that we would be spending 2 nights in Greymouth rather than Christchurch. We asked her to change that to one night and gave us another in Franz Josef so that we could give the heli-hike another go the next day. Lo behold, she agreed and organized everything, even though it was such a short notice!!!

Stephen then suggested that we do the Franz Josef glacier valley walk to spend the rest of the day. The spectacular glacier valley walk is a 1 1/2hr return walk up the glacier valley and follows the riverbed made up of rock and shingle with great views of the glacier. The valley was formed by the glacier thousands of years ago and as it has retreated, features have been carved into the valley.

IMG_2556 IMG_2560

IMG_2562As soon we enter the valley we see some lovely waterfalls and the glacier can be seen immediately. The funny thing was that it never seemed to get closer as we walked down until we realized we were right up on it….just 100m away from the terminal face where you can see the ice cave and the river run through it. It was well spent time.

IMG_2577Yippeeee….next day is clear and we take off for our heli hike. We are taken to base camp and provided with the gear - rain jacket, waterproof over-trousers, woolen socks, caps , gloves, sturdy boots and crampons (with small waist bag). The views from the helicopter ride are mind boggling as the pilot takes us deep into the heart of the glacier and does the twists and turns! IMG_2606We land and start our hike. Our guide is a kid…all of 21 yrs. The glacier scenery can’t get more pristine and awe-inspiring. We see spectacular ice formations and make our way amongst towering pinnacles of brilliantly blue ice. We hear thunderous rumbling… that was the ice falling. We want more that we can see and not just hear. And we are blessed…coz we see several. It’s an experience I can’t describe in words. But the fact that Anita, who never really asks anyone to share snaps, for the 1st time asked me for my videos of the glacier ice falling. IMG1_531

It was well worth the wait and a fantabulous way to end our trip to New Zealand.

08 November 2011

Scenic Drive to Fox Glacier – NZ Feb 2011

We leave Queenstown for Fox Glacier and this is the journey that I had mentioned in an earlier post, where we saw such diversity, with the landscape changing ever so often –rainforest, wetlands, lakes, glacier-fed rivers & white water rapids.

We had a brief stopover in Arrowtown, a quaint little town, to explore the streets and lanes. On the banks of the Arrow River, it has a very arty ambience with its shops, restaurants, cafes, offices and galleries located within a tight precinct.  At the outskirts of this town we stopped at a very famous fruit shop – Mrs Jones Fruits where we bought the local produce - Manuka honey, honey comb and fruits. 

IMG_2476The scenic landscape first treated us to 2 famous lakes– Lake Hawea with the background of mountain peaks and the adjacent Lake Wanaka, which is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand.

Soon after that we stop for a walk through New Zealand Silver Beech forest and a bridge over the Makarora River to reach the Blue Pools. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking.


The glacier-fed water from the Blue River and the Makarora River in these deep pools is a deep azure blue, and so clear IMG1_497that you can see right to the bottom. We were told to look out for the resident brown trout in the river and the pools. Reminded me of Stephen’s story that the way to catch trout is just tickle them under the gut and they will come flying out. It was a good time for a demo, but luckily for Stephen, there didn’t seem to be any trout around that day!!! The color was blue but not thaaaaat blue also!

IMG1_498Noticed piles of stones much like the ones I saw all over the place in Norway. We spent some time there building small piles of stones and adding to existing ones. They are actually known as Cairns and were navigation points earlier, but now people build them just for fun – as someone said Local Graffiti – more like ‘I was here’ left by tourists.

On our way up to Haast Pass, we pass over ‘Hell’s Gate’ which is a vital bridge linking the West Coast to the Otago. No vehicle is allowed to stop on the bridge, so we got off at one end and walked across it so that we could enjoy the sheer drops of the Haast River to the amazing blue mountain pools.
A little ahead a short walk through a lovely forest gives views of the spectacular 28 metres high Thunder Creek Waterfall which drop from the level of the glacier ice. This is Mt Aspiring National Park, where the Haast Highway crosses the mountains to reach the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Vast emptiness - 1700km to the west, you hit Tasmania, Australia, and to the southwest, nothingness till Antarctica, more than 4500km away!!! Lush vegetation faces the sea, but due to the salty air the trees have a stunted growth making it look like a Bonsai Garden.

We stop at beautiful and desolate place called Ship Creek where the river flows serenely on one side and waves off the Tasman Sea crash against the coastline on the other. The beach is secluded and sandy but plants grow freely around the driftwood which has washed onto the beach. The large pieces of drift wood sticking out of the sand look very beautiful that I feel like carrying one home with me!!!  Don’t know who exactly thought that we should “Walk like Penguins”, but there we were…waddling away!

End of a scenic day as we reached Fox Glacier. But there was another eventful day ahead for we were booked for a Helicopter ride and Glacier Hike.