Adventure Tour (Birds Eye View of New Zealand - Part 2)

Lisa picked me up at Adam's house, she was a guide for the adventure company on her way to Christchurch where she'd be leading another group on the same type of trip I was heading out on. I'd spent the last part of the morning wrestling with a broken zipper on my pack, slowly the pack was giving out with these sorts of things, rips, tears and all, but there's much life left in her still.

Five hundred kilometers later, we were at the airport dropping the rental car off and getting picked up by Kim, her next co-guide, a short while after that and we arrived at the staff flat where they all stayed in between trips.

I met the guide I'd be traveling with, a guy named Doug from Wellington. Several of us went into town for some dinner and then back to the flat to chow. I heard all about the two week adventure I'd be going on and a fair amount of the behind the scenes organizing and banter.

Lisa and Kim were doing the same trip as Dave and I, just going in reverse directions. Essentially the 14 day itinerary was this: pick up the real clients at the airport, drive the day away to a sheep farm, hike around mt cook, head to milford sounds for kayaking, up to queenstown for a free day, up along the west coast staying at various spots doing different hikes and bike rides more kayaking and the like, up to Nelson Lakes for a bigger multi day hike, pass through wine country, swim with seals in Kaikoura and then back to Christchurch to drop people off. So here goes, and all this because the right guy picked me up hitchhiking.

We got up the next morning and I rode with Dave to the airport, we picked up the four clients, two couples from Ottawa, Canada in there 50's, 60's and 70's I'd guess. We played it that I was on vacation with them, but had been doing some work with the company, which was all true really and that was fine. It didn't take them long to see I was getting a sort of free ride and this was not my customary brand of travel, but it didn't matter a lick to them or anybody and we carried on.

We drove a long ways, putting road behind us, making quick stops for bathrooms, lunch and little tourist traps - a small chapel, a statue of a dog, a jelly shop - I was happy to see that the Canadians weren't turned on by this sort of thing either.

We made a stop for a hike, up a hill a ways that let out above a lake for a pretty good view, there were several observatories set up on top as well for star gazing and the like.

Before nightfall we made it to the sheep farm where we were staying, a structure normally used for the shearers when they'd come through to trim the sheep, but in the meantime it was a pretty nice place for people to stay.

I ran through the fields straight away, the wind was gusting like mad and the grass was dancing wild. I let myself through a gate to another field, aiming myself towards the big lake to have a better look. I stepped around big cowpies that were more and more frequent, a slight turn of my head to the right revealed a dozen cows in the same paddock along with me. Not knowing the rules of cows and bulls and charging and the like, I carefully and quickly made my way to the next fence for a hop over, then down to the lake.

The wind was thrashing down there, big waves were splashing against the bank and giving me a good spray here and there. I leaned into the wind to let it hoist me up, it reminded me of living in Florida during the hurricanes and jumping around in the thick of the highest winds in that with a beer screaming "bring it on!" and the like, of course this was nowhere near the strength of those winds, but reminded me all the same, fueling a smile with past and present.

I headed back up to the house, Dave was busy in the kitchen getting dinner ready, everyone else was out on a walk of their own or getting showers in. When dinner was ready it was great, there were crackers and the sort for starters, then a big meal of salmon and fixings, followed up with desert, a cake called a Pavlova that was apparently a big New Zealand thing. There was also some beer and wine, "This batch is complimentary, when it runs out, alcohol is up to you guys to get if you want it", that was the line and how it went, but I was happy to see that there was heaps of food all included as we went along.

Dave gave us the rundown of how the trip would go, throwing in bits about how the itinerary would change based on weather, how people were feeling and things he thought may be better and that sort of thing. We all thought that sounded just fine. It was easy going, a small group, as usually these trips can max out at 16 people and typically sit around 10 or so, and usually have a couple guides instead of just one, like Lisa and Kim's lot.

French toast and coffee in the morning, then bussing it around the lake towards the hike for the day. It was a steep hike up towards the Mueller Hut, we had incredible views of Mount Cook as well. At the top Jose and I found a good spot with a great view and waited for the others. A guy around my age came over and the three of us were talking tech and the like. Eventually we realized we'd met, it was Patrick, a guy I'd briefly met while staying with my friend Ben in Wellington. It was his birthday on this day he'd decided to do this hike.

The others caught up with us and we ate our lunch, then headed down as it got a bit colder and windier there at the top.

At the bottom I waited for a good hour or so for the others to make their way down, I ran off and did a short hike to a monument while I waited. On the way back we decided to see the tasman glacier, a big chunk had fallen off in the previous weeks, right around when the big earthquake hit Christchurch.

It was an easy going night of wine and BBQ, I took a little walk under the stars blowing into my harmonica before going to sleep.

The next day we were on the bus rolling again, landing in Queenstown where we were let out for a couple hours to wander, then back on the bus for a while longer until we got to a motel on the lake by Manapouri. We had a big venison dinner that Dave cooked up, then made our ways to the pub playing billiards for the night, I had a decent beer called pitch black.

After a big breakfast we were on the bus again, briefly stopping in Te Anu before heading into the Fiordlands towards Milford Sound. It was a gray day with small fits of rain as we drove through, stopping once at a short walk with a mirror pond, then getting to the start of the Routeburn track. It was a fair afternoon hike, stopping at a hut for lunch, then climbing to the Key Summit. It was meant to have spectacular views from the top, but the clouds covered it on this day, it was still a good walk all the same.

Afterwards we kept driving, stopping to see a waterfall and then some chasms. We went through homer's tunnel and soon we were at Milford Sound. It was a beautiful spot, high cliffs all around the water inlet. We checked into the hotel and got showered up before heading to the pub.

It was Saint Patricks day, outside people were barbecuing and getting ready fr a drunken race from some bridge back to the pub. I was inside, eating a big pizza meal and having a beer of my own with Dave and the Canadians, them laughing at the shenanigans outside, me wanting to join. The group of us had another beer in the pub afterwards, I stayed behind just a while longer once they left thinking the scene would explode with energy and I wanted a part of it. Instead things fizzled out, it seemed most people had dispersed to their own places or to bed in this isolated little part of the world.

I wandered down the dark road back to the hotel, there were heaps of glow worms lighting the last little part. I went to the lobby, swigging a shot from my flask, eager to see if there was any action there. Instead I sat reading a bit, overhearing two girls talk about the problem of one if their "non-intellectual" boyfriends.

Another big breakfast and we bussed back down to the water where a kayak guide was waiting for us. It was a rainy morning, a bit windy and questionable as to whether we would be allowed on the water. We got our wetsuits on all the same and got the green light, into the water we went, each couple with their own kayak and myself in the front with our hungover guide in the back.

We paddled all around, huge waterfalls pouring down the cliffs, a result of the heavy rain. Apparently these waterfalls were non-existent in dry conditions, and always changing. We paddled under some, looked at huge ones that never dried up and went all around the sound.

Dave had a big lunch ready for us afterwards, then we bussed back out. The drive out was incredible, the cliffs sweating waterfalls the whole way. We paused at the tunnel waiting for traffic and admiring the whole scene.

Back in Queenstown we dropped the Canadians off at some hotels, then headed to the staff flat where I was to stay as well. I stopped by the nearby offices to say hi to Adam and check in, then back to the flat where another guide was hanging out.

When Dave was done with some shopping and whatnot a group of us headed into town to the pub.

The next day was a lazy day of lounging around, there was talk of getting a free bungee jump, but they were filled up and it didn't happen. The next day we scooped up the Canadians at the hotel and had a big breakfast at a restaurant nearby.

We bussed it towards Wanaka afterwards, cutting up switchbacks on the bus, over the hills and to Mount Iron for a short hike while Dave got the bikes ready. We then headed into town where we met up with another guide and her Irish friend. We headed out a ways and got the bikes good to go, pedaling down some trails along the water and for a good ways. It was loads of fun, cruising at good speeds on the bright day.

We ended back in Wanaka where the other guide had the bus ready for us to load the bikes back on the trailer, then we got some lunch and had time to wander around Wanaka. I picked up a six pack of some stouts and got back to the bus.

After some time on the bus we arrived in Makarora where stayed in these small tall house looking things called chalets. Dave cooked up a big stew dinner, afterwards we headed to the pub. This was the halfway point in the trip, so the other trip going in the opposite directions, Lisa and Kim's, were also there. They came and met us at the pub, we talked a while swapping stories and drinks.

Another breakfast and on the road again, heading for Okarito. Along the way we did several short hikes - blue pools bridge, fantail falls, thunder falls - then we got to fox glacier, a hike I'd done while hitchhiking down towards Queenstown before I'd fallen into this whole thing. Afterwards we went to Franz Josef Glacier which I'd also already been to. Instead of following along with the Canadians, I scurried down another trail to see where it would take me. It was a much longer trail, I was running at times, leaping from stump to stone and over little creeks to see how far I could get, finally turning around to make it back to the parking lot in time.

We bussed it forward, finally getting to the sleepy beach community of Okarito where there was a house with little suites, I had one to myself here. There we relaxed, I broke into a couple more stouts and took a walk down to the beach before another big stew dinner, watching the sun do tricks with light against Mount Cook in the distance.

Big breakfast again, then it was off to the kayak place just a short walk away. I had a kayak to myself and each couple was paired up again. We had no guide this time, just given a map of the lagoon and the channels we could go down. We raced out into it, admiring the birds poking along in the shallow water, mountains in the distance. We cruised down the channels, having to get out a couple times because of shallow waters. We paused and listened to the wide array of birds singing away. The paddle back was a fight against the wind and the tide, but we all made it and felt pretty good about the whole morning.

A big chili lunch awaited us which we gobbled up with ease. There was nothing else on the agenda for the rest of the day, just to relax and soak in the place. I wandered back to the beach, fishing rod in hand considering catching some. Instead I just wandered far down the beach, spinning it around with memories of the fire staff spinners at Kiwi Burn.

That night I had the last of my stouts and Dave had a big lamb dinner ready for us, we gobbled that us with ease too.

The next day we were on the road again, continuing north up the west coast, briefly stopping in Hokitika, then just past Greymouth where Dave dropped us off to do a hike around the bluffs overlooking the ocean, picking us up at the end of it. From the we headed to the Pancake Rocks, I'd seen those weeks earlier with the Scottish woman who'd picked me up hitchhiking south.

Afterwards we went on a long hike along a river through the woods that looped back just south of the town where the bus was waiting, a few more minutes on the bus and we were at the accommodation for the night. I stayed in a small house part of it with Dave.

We went back to town for fish n' chips, then got some ice cream and took another walk around the pancake rocks at sunset, it was good sunset too. Back at the motel I had a couple beers with Dave and relaxed a bit, bag packed for the bigger multiday hike coming up.

We had a fitting pancake breakfast, the bussed it towards Nelson National Park, stopping along the way for a little hike. Here we'd start our three day / two night hike. The first leg of it was around the lake to a little hit, I'd gotten ahead of everyone else and at the hut a good hour before. I wandered the area, looking at birds and the water and the mountains surrounding.

The Canadians soon arrived, followed by Dave who'd got going after all us having to take care of the bus and things. It was a simple hut, bunks and a kitchen area. Besides our crew, there was just one Australian hiker staying as well.

Dave cooked up a big curry meal, we feasted and played cards until sleep was the thing.

The next day we got some oatmeal and coffee in us, made up some sandwiches and were set to go. The canadians laughed at me and themselves, they were doing all sorts in preparation for the day of hiking ahead, I could only sit and wait, there didn't seem to be much preparation needed. "You're really gonna hike this in sandals?", they asked me, referring to my Keens. I'd walked the whole of America in these shoes and all numbers of terrain and the rest of New Zealand, I couldn't see any reason to own any other shoe.

We crossed a little river straight away, a big ordeal for the rest of swapping sandals and changing socks and getting sorted on both sides, I was in go mode, tired of their pace. I charged ahead to the next meeting point, some sign Dave said we'd regroup at. I waited there a good while for the others to catch up, eager to keep going. Dave chose another point, "the trail goes straight up through the forest and more or less follows the valley, we'll stop at the big clearing for lunch".

I marched up through the cool forest, a nice hike for a couple hours gaining elevation. Once at the clearing I took a seat on some boulders and munched down one of my sandwiches, then the other. An hour later the rest caught up, we hiked another twenty minutes or so to get to the clearing Dave had been talking about and they stopped for lunch.

The last stretch of the hike was a pretty steep climb up loose gravel in the wide open, a pretty fun scramble. Once at the top the hut was just around the corner. This hut was much bigger and next to a beautiful little lake. I through my stuff on a bunk and talked to some people from Blenheim for a while. Out the window I saw a peak that looked like a fun climb, so I ran outside and made my way for it. It was a good climb and took a some maneuvering towards the very top, but was well worth it. The view stretched on for ages, more mountains in the distance, a huge lake and of course the little lake and hut below. I could see down at the hut that the others had arrived as well.

I made my way down after getting my fill of peace, relaxing the rest of the day away in the hut. Another big pasta dinner, cheesecake and playing cards.

The next day was full of rain and wind. We hiked up on to the ridge at a snails pace, Dave wanted us to stay together given the weather. We moved along, hopping boulders and along the trail single file. Once we were at the last bit that went straight down I broke away and practically ran down most of it.

A guy picked us up with the bus, we gave a couple other hikers a lift down to town as well. Back at the park entrance we had bagels and glasses of champagne to celebrate the completion of the big hike, then it was back into the bus heading towards Blenheim.

In Blenheim we went to Forrest Winery, I'd been there about a month earlier when I was walking and hitchhiking from one to the next. That particular one was where I met a Canadian girl who I ended up spending the night with at her motel room, a great night of wine, food and horse betting laughs. There was no Canadian girl and such kicks this time, but tastes of wine all the same.

On the bus again, we continued to and down the east coast until we got to the bed and breakfast in Kaikoura. It felt more like we were guests in home, the older couple that lived there got started on fixing up a big dinner right away. It was a great big meal, wine and beer flowed and it was a good night.

In the morning they had a big breakfast for us as well. The plan for this last and final day was seal swimming, but a phone call came into Dave from the seal guy saying the water was too rough and murky. Dave later told me he knew the guy and that he was probably just too hungover to deal with tourists.

The older couple took us out back to the creek before sending us off, feeding the big eels that lived in there. We bussed it down to the beach and did a hike around the coast to make up for the lack of swimming, there were still plenty of seals to see on the rocks.

We hopped back on the bus, bound for Christchurch. We made another stop for one last hike, then went to the beach for sandwiches, and soon we were at the airport dropping off the Canadians. Dave and I headed back to the ranch just north of the city, we saw Lisa and Kim on the way and then again back the ranch, they all got to cleaning their buses. That night I hung out with them and some other guides, all getting off and getting ready for there next big trip. It had been a pretty fun couple weeks for me, eating good and hiking heaps. The next day I'd be heading back to Queenstown to wrap things up and see what my next adventure would be.

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