Wednesday, 21 November 2012

the sky resembles a backlit canapé

As you head towards Lake Tekapo you pass a sign that proclaims it to be a "Scientific Reserve".  Or maybe it was "Scenic Reserve"?  That would probably make more sense.  In any case, it summoned up images in my mind of bespectacled men in white coats roaming the planes, solving complex differential equations and growing ears on the backs of small mammals.

Turns out that it just means they have a big field and an observatory.  We've seen fields before, so we went to check out the observatory and watch the skis.  The night sky was obligingly clear, allowing us to see clouds of stars instead of actual clouds; as well as Jupiter and four of its moons and some other twinkly crap.

The next day we stopped in to visit one of the chaps from work.  He and his family own a wee holiday home in Twizel, and they were kind enough to fill us with lunch and then take us out for a blat around Lake Ruataniwha on their boat.  I'm not much of an expert on these things, but I reckon their approach is pretty much spot on; get a small boat because it's cheap, and then slap the biggest engine possible on the back off it.  I can't be sure of how fast it went because none of the dials worked, but it was fast enough to give a chap a whole different kind of haircut and purge my brain of everything but the theme tune to Magnum PI.

After that we headed up the road to Mt Cook.  I had thought that Mt Cook played the part of the angry mountain (Caradhras) in The Fellowship; but apparently that was Mt Earnslaw.  However Mt Cook and the rest of the surrounding Southern Alps did star as The Misty Mountains, and so in theory is still home to Balrogs.  The Southern Alps did a bit of a turn in the lighting-of-the-beacons bit too.  And it also turns out that the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was filmed in the vast rolling brownlands around Twizel, though I don't recall seeing much in the way of rotting Mumakil carcasses.  Perhaps stoats have devoured them.

Stoats are, by the way, New Zealand's deadliest predator.  Fact.  Before humans started stumbling all over it, New Zealand had only three species of native mammal; and they were all types of bat.  Mostly New Zealand was home to insects and a bazillion kinds of retarded bird, until Europeans brought over stuff to eat, shoot and wear.  Stoats were introduced in an attempt to control the rampant rabbit population... this failed horribly for a number of reasons.  First off, stoats are raging psychopaths; secondly, rabbits are wise to their stoaty ways and will peg it at the first sign of any stoaty trouble; and third New Zealand's birds are, as previously stated, retarded.  For example, the Kakapo.

The kakapo is a flightless parrot whose natural defence is to stand very still and pretend to be a bush.  The stoats fucked those chumps up.

Anyway, we rounded the day off by going for a bimble along Hooker Valley, on the west side of Mt Wakefield.  Hooker Valley wasn't entirely what I was expecting, but it still offered some good views and only mildly terrifying swing bridges over raging boulder-strewn rivers.

And at the end of it all, just past a big freezing lake and a lot of signs promising near certain avalanchey death to any traveller foolhardy enough to venture any further, the ominous mass of Hooker Glacier was just visible through the mists.

The next day we went up the other side of Mt Wakefield to bimble along Tasman Valley.  The first thing we found were the Blue Lakes.

The Blue Lakes were less like lakes and more like ponds to my eyes, but for the absence of frogspawn and a half-submerged shopping trolley.  Also not very blue.  If I understand correctly, these are sink holes left behind in the wake of the retreating glacier; and are pretty much the same size as Lake Tasman would have been twenty or so years ago.  Lake Tasman is pretty big nowadays.

We carried on bimbling along the valley track, the lake concealed behind a large and mostly treacherous looking ridge of rocks and boulders.  After a few hours of walking we found a slightly more stable looking pile of rocks and clambered over them to discover that we had gone past the end of the lake and were now alongside Tasman Glacier.

I sort of expected the glacier to either be a huge groaning cliff face of glistening ice or a big mint with a polar bear standing on it.  It is of course neither of these things.  The glacier is a big chunk of ice several hundred metres deep, but is almost entirely concealed beneath a couple of metres of rocks - the remains of the surrounding landscape that has been ground out by the glacier, left behind as the glacier melts away.  The result is a desolate, alien landscape that's kind of cool but not very pretty.

Whilst sat on our teetering pile of avalanche fodder, I experienced the questionable delights of the Mighty Perky Nana.

It is a chocolate covered banana chew thing - basically the same as Pineapple Lumps, except that it tastes of banana.  Apart from the first mouthful, which tasted kind of like cheese.  And the rest of it, which tasted like horror.  Die in a fire, Mighty Perky Nana.

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