Two days in Middle Earth

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

Another two days, another two walks, neither of which turned out quite as expected. The first was supposed to be a brief visit to a viewpoint from which one can see icebergs floating on a lake at the foot of the Tasman glacier – the biggest glacier in New Zealand. A leaflet from the amazing Mount Cook visitor centre assured us that the viewpoint was no more than a 50 minutes round walk from the nearest car park so even though we had a long drive ahead of us we decided to take a look. After almost two hours of climbing up a baking hot boulder-strewn canyon surrounded by avalanche-ready peaks we began to think we may have taken a wrong turn. That proved to be the case as we finally came over a ridge and saw the glacier not in front of us as we had expected but stretched out, in all its glory, far below us. One end was covered in rocks carved from bordering mountains, the other pristine white. We sat and listened to its creaks and cracks as it inched its way imperceptibly down the valley before starting the seemingly endless walk back to the car park – wondering on occasion whether we or the glacier would get there first.

The second walk was intended to be longer. We had read up on some of the great treks of New Zealand and knew that the start of the three day Routeburn trail was a short drive from where we were staying. We planned to complete the first six or seven hours of it. But things conspired against us. First the van failed to start – requiring the assistance of a third party with both jump-leads and more importantly knowledge of how to use them. I’d like to save Stuart’s blushes by claiming that he was outclassed in the ‘man’ stakes by a burly truck-driving New Zealand farmer but we were actually rescued by a gangly gap-year student from Dorking who had borrowed some of our olive oil the night before.

The second thing that slowed our progress was the fact that I was driving the van. I don’t own a car and it has been several years since I was last behind a steering wheel. As a result I am not a fast driver. In fact, when, on one occasion, I was invited to join clients for a corporate motor racing day at Enstone, my professional co-driver was so exasperated by my snail-like pace he cried “Oh for god’s sake, you’re not paying for the petrol you know”. So it should be no surprise to anybody that what should have been a one hour journey to the start of the trail turned into two. To make matters worse, Stu’s navigating also failed to pass muster and we spent what seemed like an eternity roaming Middle Earth. (We were in Lord of the Rings territory). Anybody who has been to New Zealand’s South Island will know quite how few roads there are and quite how difficult it is to get lost – but lost we got.

When, having fought both Orcs and each other, we finally arrived at the start of the Routeburn trail there was barely any daylight left. More importantly, given the possibility that we might need another jump start, there were hardly any cars left in the visitor car park either. We considered giving up altogether but decided instead to opt for a shorter two hour walk. I’m glad we did. The trail took us along a tumbling stream and up through damp mossy beech forests which according to the sign were over four hundred years old. It couldn’t have been more different to the Tasman glacier walk. In just two days we were able to appreciate the variety oflandscape the New Zealand has to offer.

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