Hello everybody!

As you may know, every three months I have to leave Australia to renew my tourist visa. You will get absolutely no complaints from me about this. I will never say, “Crap. We have to go to Fiji again?” or “I have no new places to go to now.” I will always be up for new adventure and the world is too big to run out of places that make my heart pound. As my luck would have it, I found a partner who loves to travel as much as I do and this time is no exception. We choose New Zealand as our first.

The main priority was to get the visa renewed which can be done online in about 60 seconds.  We had a relatively short amount of time to be here since someone has to be back at work but we chose to go to the Fox Glacier for a trek. I bought a few books, made my reservations for hotels, car & guide and eagerly awaited the day to hop on the plane.

My Achilles heel is lack of sleep. When two people who share a bed are excited about the next day and one of us can’t sleep because of a late nap then this does not bode well for the next day. We got up at 5:30am and shot out the door to take the train to the airport. I have zero personality at that time of day and I stood there on the train in my own little world till we got there. All went very smooth when we checked in and I sashayed over to an airport cafe to have a cafe latte and scarf down two ham & cheese croissants. The character defect of that morning was gluttony but I was hungry, so there. JD almost never eats breakfast and this wasn’t an exception. He wouldn’t even have coffee since he didn’t want to have to get out of his seat to pee on the plane. I am not a desert animal used to arid conditions so I gleefully drank my coffee and had plenty of water in flight.

I have to give two thumbs up and a high five to Air New Zealand. What a WONDERFUL flight. The food was actually GOOD. I watched The Hangover on my personal LCD flatscreen that picked out of 15 other possible movies, 5 games, and 30 or so other assorted shows. Even the presentation of the safety regiment was out of the ordinary. They run a small clip going through all the normal stuff but every one is NEKKID!!! All their clothes are painted on and they are  positioned just right so no bits and pieces are actually shown.

We flew in to Auckland, on the north island, where the customs officers are located. We went thru the normal routine of declaring nothing, waiting in a bunch of lines and then walked next door to their domestic airport to take another flight to Christchurch on the south island. We arrived safe and sound in Christchurch and after being pointed in the right direction, phoned the rental car company. It was about 6:20pm and they had closed at 5pm! After a curt and short discussion about customer service and common courtesy notifications with the after hours person, I also found out that the cell phone place also closed at 5 so I wouldn’t be able to procure a NZ sim card for my phone. My facial expression was approaching something akin to Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians but we managed to flag down a taxi and get to the hotel, $40 later.

I had chosen the Hotel So because of it’s modern decor and fun look. No the hotel isn’t the important part of the trip but with so many to choose from in a great price range, why not book something fabulous? Of course, we must remember that JD and I have differing opinions  on what is fabulous or not. So when we were placed on the PINK floor (see photos) he was less than amused. I heard some muttering about he really needs to take control of the reservations but I was too busy soaking up the pink glow from my room to notice. It was tiny as well which didn’t allow for much privacy. There was a curved sliding frosted glass door that sectioned off the bath chamber (too small to be a bathROOM) that was right up next to the only night stand next to the bed that was taking up the rest of the room. We had roughly a four square foot area for moving around in and the luggage slid under the bed with the blue neon lights and ironing board. As my friend Margie, used to say, there wasn’t enough room to cuss a cat in there.

However I skipped downstairs to used the computers and check up on Facebook and answer emails while, JD talked to a man about horse. Privacy issue resolved. Once he joined me, we went off in search of somewhere out of the ordinary to eat. We both enjoy really great food and although I would have settled for Japanese, we pressed on. We ended up finding an adorable one woman operation that offered Swiss food called Le Pot Au Feu (see photos). We started out with a cold potato soup with a strong buttery taste that had a hint of a few herbs that I couldn’t quite name. Regardless, I could have had another bowl for desert it was so good.  JD had some sort of a pork and mushroom dish that disappeared faster than an ice cube in hell and I had a beautiful salmon dish in a caper and butter sauce with little pastries to imitate the head and tail of the fish. Both dishes were delicious, were consumed with great fervor and our chef/waitress/owner took one look at JD and brought out bread just so he could mop up the rest of the mushroom sauce. Talk about knowing your customer! With our tummies full we headed back to Hotel So and crashed. I will say this about the hotel. It may have been a small room but the bed was very comfortable and they had great pillows and sheets.

The next morning we got up early and made our way back to the airport to pick up the rental car. I waltzed into the place and bemoaned a long tale about being abandoned at the airport by their company. They humored me, made sure I got a sporty red car that got 100 miles to the gallon and a GPS and away we went. JD had said over and over that he didn’t want to drive but I think he wondered about the wisdom of that choice the whole way to the glacier. It was difficult to not only drive on the wrong side of the road which was mostly switch backs in the mountains, but also to SHIFT WITH MY LEFT HAND… I found that to be the most difficult part of it.

When first starting out I was a bit confused. I had only heard about how lush and green New Zealand was and it looked a lot like the Rockies to me. Brown tufts of grass everywhere and trees that were tough and windswept. There were large expanses of dry river beds several meters across that only had a small trickling stream making it’s way thru. We passed cattle and what we assumed to be elk that were being grown for food. And sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. Some shaven, some not, some shaven a while ago but don’t have their full coats back. All cute, fat, and happy.

Finally our red beast chugged it’s way up to the top of Arthur’s Pass which is the turning point. Arthur’s Pass is up in the clouds at 9,924 feet above sea level. After that it was the green green green that everyone talks about. We stopped at one point to look out at a ravine and there were these birds called Kees that attacked the cars and chewed on the rubber seals around windows and anything else they could their beaks on. One woman couldn’t get one of them off of her car so she just drove off. It finally hopped off of the car and then walked briskly back to another car to resume. They had wings so I don’t know why they chose to walk a lot but they were very comical looking.

After adding a few new grey hairs to JD’s head and countless swerves, following the road, JD made the comment that they must have followed a drunk snake when laying out the road. I have to agree with him but none the less we made our way to the Sunset Motel at the town of Fox Glacier. Thank goodness for GPS! Most of the roads are marked, and ALL of the creeks, culverts, streams, rivers, and bodies of water are labeled correctly but having it eased a lot of worry about getting to the motel without any drama. Our room was perfectly adequate, providing us with everything we needed including a towel warmer. The best part about the place was the views of the mountains! It wasn’t much when we first got their but the blue skies were out for a bit the next morning and it was quite a sight to wake up to (see photos).

We dined on New Zealand steaks that night and headed off to bed early. The following morning after looking at the mountains I picked my jaw up off the floor and got ready for the day. We grabbed some brunch at  one of the small local restaurants across the street from the company we had signed up for the guided tour. After eating and doing some souvenir shopping we and a few others gathered at Fox Glacier Guiding and were provided with instructions, warnings, threats, boots, wool socks, clampons, and waterproof gear. There was even one girl who was there from Washington DC!

They took us in a bus to the face of the glacier where it was very cold. The wind came down the mountains and glacier and made my face hurt. I started to wonder about whether I was going to make it since when my ears get cold from wind they hurt really bad. After making some adjustments to my clothing I was once again a happy camper and learning all about glaciers. New Zealand is one of the wettest places on earth receiving 9-10 meters of rain a year! There was a mini ice age back in the 1700s that the glacier reached much farther than it does now making it almost all the way out to the sea (see photo). This glacier is a fast moving one, moving about 5 meters a day and a snow flake that drops at the top only takes 50 years to travel down to the bottom and join the rest falling into the glacier river (see photos).

It was quite a sight to see and far from over. We were then led into the rainforest that crowds on either side glacier where it was hot, wet, and buggy. We hiked up over 800 stairs peeling off layers and guzzling water the whole way. Sometimes we were surrounded by trees and giant ferns, sometimes we were clinging to chain and rock to keep from falling down into the ravine. We finally made it back to the glacier but now we were back quite a ways and up on top. All the layers were quickly added again and we put on our clampons. You have to walk very flat-footed across the ice because the clampons are in your instep so walking with your normal heel to toe gait won’t help you. You must also stomp your feet to be sure that you have a sufficient grip on the ice. Our guide earned her money swinging a pick axe reforming the steps up and over the glacier. There were lots of gaps in the ice that we were warned not to get close to. At first it I thought the glacier was dirty looking with all the debris that would fall on it from the mountains but in the gaps you could see the clean blue ice that dipped way down, sometimes farther than you could see. We moved around up on the ice taking pictures and getting generally frozen until it was time to go. We made our way back down carefully and then went thru the same routine of getting hot in the rainforest and removing all layers to only put them back on again when we got down the face. We had a wonderful time and I recommend as an experience not to be missed!

The next morning we made our way back to Christchurch with just mild whimpering about our calves. We stopped at the Bushman Centre so I could get a roadkill sandwich (venison salami = heaven) and view a few wonders such as the rare giant sandfly (Pteradactyl Legpullus)(see photos). Apparently they had hunted down this poor creature who now graces the front of their establishment. I guess it just wouldn’t be a proper vacation without a classic tourist trap.

After we got back to Christchurch, we wandered around for more souvenir shops, grabbed a bite to eat, and listened to music of the Maoris, the native New Zealanders. We got up very very early to allow for plenty of time for a 7am flight which had us back into Sydney by 8:30am Australian time. Worn out and bodies aching we were back home. We left to renew my visa but in the end needed a day to renew ourselves and I’m now ready for the next three months of G’Days and Cheers.

Stay classy America!