Our day excursion to Abel Tasman Park was amazing. The weather was perfect....not a cloud in the sky. The first half of the day we kayaked through the bays and ocean inlets...exploring caves and learning about the history of the area. I had never Kayaked before. My German friend, Annette, had never kayaked either so we decided to be a pair. It was so much fun! The water was calm and we glided over the top effortlessly. After lunch, we set off on a hike through the park. The terrain was so interesting because it was a sub-tropic forest right from the beaches edge. There were spruce trees mixed with ferns and palm trees judding out from the cliff edges. Through all of the branches and leaves you could view the sandy white beaches and aqua blue ocean. The vegetation and land formations almost don't make sense in New Zealand....I guess that is why it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We spent a few more days in the quaint town of Nelson and then headed down the West Coast to a small town called Punakaiki. Punakaiki....aka "Pancake Rocks" is named for these unique rock formations created by a layering weather process called Stylobedding. Basically, this limestone rock forms into these thick layers that look like pancakes stacked on each other. It is one of those scientific mysteries as to why the rocks make this formation. During high tide, the sea surges into caverns and thunders against the rocks....and flies up through blowholes. I did not grow up near the ocean and have only seen the Caribbean or calmer seas. This was one of the first times I witnessed the pure strength and force of the monstrous waves. It was humbling....If I were to have fallen into the water I would have died instantly. I could have stood there for hours in awe of mother nature. I took pics and video, but it doesn't give it any justice.
After the pancake rocks, we grabbed our head lamps and headed into a cave. It was open to the public and not that big, but it was fun to go exploring about on our own. If we were on a cave expedition, I would have been fired immediately. I hit the roof of the cave with my backpack, nailed my head against the rocks, and skidded the sides of my body in tight spots. I was covered in mud and clay by the end of it. There weren't too many major cave formations, so I didn't do that much damage thanks goodness! But I don't think I should look for a career in caving anytime soon. From the caves we went on a hike through this lush forest. It went right along this gorgeous, crystal clear river. (Most rivers in NZ you can drink out of). It was an enchanting hike- all the different trees were shades of green and browns. It was so dense and natural aromas filled the air. The temperature was crisp and fresh...I hardly broke a sweat. I was just waiting for a fairy to whiz by my head or a hobbit to pop out of one of the tree holes - It felt magical! By the end of the day we were exhausted. We stayed in a cute forest bungalow which was basically this shelter with 7 beds...it was very outdoorsy and rustic.
The next day we headed down the coast to Fox Glacier. New Zealand is unique in that is has glaciers only feet from sub-tropic & tropical rain forests....and only a few miles from the beach. The only other place in the world where it has similar terrain is Patagonia in South America. I had never been up close and personal to a glacier before. I decided, being a Texas girl and all, that not only was I going to tour the glacier, but I was going to sign up for ice-climbing class. I am not sure the next time I will see a glacier so I was going to live up the moment. This was another one of my grand ideas that sounded super fun and exciting, but I didn't really think everything through...like the whole part where you "ice-climb" a freaking glacier!!!! It ended up being one of the most challenging days of my trip so far.
Our group consisted of 4 guys and another German girl named Franci (tons and tons of Germans backpack through NZ!) Everyone had either ice-climbed or rock-climbed previously....and then there was little ol' me. Besides not ever being on a glacier before, I had never done any sport climbing. In fact, I totally sucked at the action of climbing itself. When we were teenagers, I was always the last one to climb over the fence when running from the Williamson County cops at high school parties. It was just a skill I never fully developed. We packed up our ice-climbing gear, which consisted of ice boots, crampons (the spiky things for your shoes), harness, axes, anchors, ropes, gloves, and helmet. We hiked over an hour up the glacier which was exhausting in itself. The glacier was intimidating and beautiful all at the same time. Another humbling moment where you realize how awesome mother nature really is. Our guides, Chris & Malcolm, taught us the basics of climbing on very small ice walls and we all seemed to get the general hang of things. They set us up for a first climb on a high wall, but it wasn't very steep. I followed the guides instructions...tap one ax in....tap the other ax in...then place each foot into the wall and move up and repeat. I made it all the way to the top and it was awesome! However, my guide warned me that I was using my arms too much and needed to put more weight into my legs. But I felt like I was going to fall if I did that. Even though we were connected to a harness, it was a weird feeling to trust your body while climbing....this is a very common reaction to new climbers. After lunch, they set us up on a much higher and steeper wall. Certain parts of the wall had an overhang that you needed to climb up, which meant climbing past a 90 degree angle. By this time most everyone seemed to have the hang of things, but I was still nervous and knew that I was the weakest link. When I saw the new wall I was like..."what the F....I thought this was a "beginners" course PEOPLE!!!!" I think my partner was a bit nervous too because he told me that I was climbing first. I got all set up and tied into the harness and was like "oh well....all I can do is try my best." It took a lot longer to get my positioning and start up the climb. I could feel my body starting to get a little weak. Sometimes my leg would or ax would slip out, but as long as I had at least 3 points in the ice I could catch myself. Then I got to the overhang. I was already tired and was trying to use all my strength to put the ax in over the hang so that I could climb over the hard part....once again, however, I was not putting the weight into my legs. I got into this horribly awkward position where I couldn't see a good option for me to move upward and I was about 30 ft. off the ground and in between a big crevasse. My arm muscles began to burn and shake and they were not going to last much longer. WHY COULD I NOT PUT THE WEIGHT INTO MY LEGS!!!!!!!!! I didn't think I had good foot placement and my hands were freezing...the frustration overwhelmed me. Malcolm was yelling at me where I needed to go and trying to get me placed better to where I could save energy. I tried one more time to change positions, but I felt my body give out and there was nothing I could do....my feet slipped and I just let go of the axes. Before I knew it, I crashed into the wall behind me, dropped about 5 ft and then was hanging in the middle of this crevasse with everyone staring at me. "See, I told you that you would not fall," exclaimed Malcolm. ( I was beginning to not like Malcolm at this particular moment in time) "Technicality beats out muscle in climbing and your muscles are shredded. You need to trust your legs more." I was both physically & mentally exhausted. What the hell was I thinking doing ice-climbing on a glacier??? The part that sucked the most was that my right ax was stuck in the snow 5 ft. up. Malcolm told me that I needed to get it and that he wasn't letting me down until I climbed to the top. I gave him a look that must have frightened him because he then said he would pull my rope tight to help me above the tough area, but after that I was on my own. He was one of those tough love, no compassion type of people....but otherwise really nice. After he helped me above the lip, I grabbed my ax and got into placement. I caught my breath and sorted out my thoughts...little by little I made it to the top. Even though I had a little bit of help, I was proud of myself. My body was exhausted though...it was a long 9 hour day! After it was all said and done and I was lying in my bed re-thinking the day, I was able to put together all the technicalities he was trying to explain to me. Once you trust your body and footing, ice climbing can be a very exhilarating sport. I would like to try it again someday ad climb to the top with no help at all!
The next day I just wanted to relax. My entire body was sore and I couldn't imagine doing anything strenuous. Alan, Franci, and this other dude Kevin, and I went out to the beach to watch the sunset. We walked on the beach where the Tasman ocean was on one side and the mountains and glaciers were on the other side. Where else in the world could you have this view, I wondered??? I sat on a washed up log with my feet in the sand and watched the sun sizzle into the ocean. The adventures and experiences of the past week were running through my mind....I wondered, as the sun was swallowed up by the ocean - who on earth was seeing the first glimpses of sunrise? Was someone sitting on a beach on the other side of the world wondering the same thing as me?
My computer is giving me trouble...I hope to have all of these pics posted in the next day or 2.