01/21/11 - Akaroa to Mt. Cook
In the early morning light we both experienced the joys of Onuku Farm Hostel's outdoor shower stalls. They were enclosed, private, and had gas heated water. Definitely the nicest outdoor shower I've ever experienced. The birds sang to us as we scrubbed away.
Up earlier than the rest of the backpackers, we ate a quiet breakfast of fresh oatmeal, raisins, and brown sugar. This was fast becoming our daily breakfast as it is, fast, filling, and scrumptious – not to mention easy to clean.
We struck up a conversation with a German woman who was nearing the end of her biking trip around New Zealand. She was traveling alone and carting all her own food and equipment as she cycled across both islands. Very impressive.
Alas, it was time for us to depart. Now, you may remember a question was posed a couple of days ago. Would we or would we not? It’d been roaming through our minds and we’d finally decided on an answer – Let’s go for it! Despite the long day ahead of us, we were going to stop in Christchurch to see at least one act at the Buskers Festival! We hadn’t come all this way to miss out on something so unique, after all. As it turned out, we ended up seeing three acts, and it was totally worth it.
First up was Pedro Tochas, who despite the rain (all the acts were outdoors) put on a lively show. He was a clown from Portugal who pantomimed a medieval love story with balloon creations and crowd participation. Very entertaining. Next up were the Blackstreet Boyz from America. Amazing dancers with hilarious jokes (which were very America-centric, I should mention). Katie and I were getting every one them. The Kiwis? Not so much. We laughed at every punch line, and I have a big laugh. Suffice to say, we were getting looks. To top it off, a bird kept swooping in and flying around their circular stage. This prompted one of the Blackstreet Boyz to act as though it was a trained bird on a long leash. He’d mime pulling the string in and out based on the bird’s proximity, and then letting it go when the bird flew away. Okay, it may not sound funny, but it was hilarious.
Last, but definitely not least, was the Daredevil Chicken Club, also from the United States. They were hysterical!! A married pair of magicians/circus performers. The wife had a heavy affected Russian accent while the husband was an American with homosexual tendencies. He kept having to pull his wife off the male volunteers, and she was doing likewise. Meanwhile, they were boasting their amazing skills and artistry but could never quite coordinate their timing. In the end, they actually pulled off some cool stunts and magic tricks while leaving the audience in stitches. They were extremely talented and our favorite of the three acts we saw.
After plopping down some money for a last minute purchase of fish and chips, we headed out of the city and drove inland. The sky was gray; the rain, sporadic. Nevertheless, the landscape was beautiful and inspired us to listen to the soundtrack to “The Lord of the Rings.” (Did you have any doubt?)
Our first stop was Lake Tekapo, which is home to the Church of the Good Shepard. It was a very small but extremely picturesque church right on the lakeside. Inside was calm and serene until a bus full of Japanese tourists came bustling through like a herd of paparazzi. Cameras flashing non-stop. We side-stepped our way out during the invasion.
Let me take a moment here to comment on the fact that so far on our tour through New Zealand 90% of the people we’ve interacted with have been foreigners – as in foreign to New Zealand. We've met English, German (lots!), Japanese, Chinese, and on and on. It’s like this country is populated by foreign travelers alone! It doesn’t bother us in the least, in fact, we find it rather interesting and fun running into so many different people. It’s a great mix of cultures. It just goes to show how important tourism is to New Zealand’s economy. Second only to sheep, I’m sure.
From there we skipped on over to the next big puddle: Lake Pukaki. Both of these lakes reflected the purest, palest blue I’ve ever seen. The blue is due to glacial flour (in America it is called glacial dust), which comes from the glaciers up in the mountains grinding the rock below into a fine powder. That "flour" runs off into streams and down into these lakes. The fine particles of the dust absorb all the colors of the spectrum except for blue, thus leaving the blue behind to glow in the light of the sun. We took some amazing pictures at the lakeside and both thought the landscape couldn’t get any better. We were wrong.
Instead of camping on the edge of Lake Pukaki, as planned, we decided to go all the way into the Aoraki / Mt. Cook area and camp at the White Horse Hill Campground. Man, did we make the right choice! The clouds were low and misty as we drove up and in, finally arriving in a valley surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains. We kept taking photo after photo of the amazing landscape, spotted with sheep and cows and the occasional rabbit. At the end of the road rested The Hermitage Hotel, and just beyond was the campground. We had no trouble finding a spot to set up our tent. We breathed in the fresh air and made dinner in the campground cooking shelter. These facilities were top notch. Some of the best I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve camped a lot!
As we fell asleep, snuggled inside our warm down sleeping bags, we didn’t think our camping spot could be any more beautiful. We were wrong.
The next morning the clouds were still low and the air was chilly. We made a quick breakfast before heading to the Hermitage to make reservations to go out on Lake Tasman to see the Tasman glacier and it's icebergs. Just as we got to The Hermitage the sun broke through the sky, opening the clouds up like a window. Suddenly, watching over us like ancient Gods in glistening robes of white, the faces of the New Zealand Southern Alps appeared before us. Not until that moment did we realize we’d been camping at the very foot of these glorious mountains! We could hardly wait to start our hike! It seemed no view could be as spectacular as this one, but once again, we were wrong.