Rain, rain go away and don’t bother coming back another day, you’ve already caused enough problems!
As you can probably guess, this morning we awoke to what sound like somebody dropping heavy metal nuts and bolts onto the roof outside as the rain drops hurled themselves to the ground. Huge grey clouds seemed to billow out of nowhere and the longer we listened, the harder it seemed to get. Hmmmm. They weren’t exactly the conditions we were hoping for for our morning kayaking trip on Lake Mapourika but never mind, we were sure it would still be a great experience. Hopping out of bed, we got dressed in a number of different layers, put on our waterproof jackets and trousers before heading out and braving the rain for some breakfast. I’m not usually a huge fan of cornflakes but managed to force some down in preparation for the 3 hours of exercise I was about to do. The last thing I wanted to do was find myself exhausted after 10 minutes! Once the chicken sandwiches had been made and bagged and breakfast had been devoured, it was time for us to venture into the downpour and set off on part 1 of the day’s adventures.
Walking down the road, barely being able to see what was in front of us, I found myself getting soggier and soggier even with all my layers. The water just seemed to get everywhere and every now and again, a drip would find it’s way down my neck. Brrrrrr. It really was quite cold and felt a lot like the weather you’d get in the UK but in a strange way, I quite liked it. I’ve always enjoyed the comforts of hot soup and warm heaters and after spending the last few months in up to 42C and 90% humidity in Australia, I’d almost forgotten what that felt like. At least after the kayaking and the kiwi sanctuary later on, I’d be able to indulge in it again and really, really appreciate it. Yep, after all that hard work, it would be even better than normal. Feeling quite happy and not really caring that I was really rather wet at this point, when we reached the Glacier Kayak offices I marched inside, ready to go. There was a lovely black labrador who came over for strokes as soon as we arrived and I found myself distracted by him straight away which meant that I wasn’t quite ready for the news that the kayaking trip was cancelled. It came as quite a shock. Well, no it didn’t really as the weather really was horrendous but it was still very disappointing to hear. The woman at the desk was very nice though and offered us a place on the 1pm trip if the weather improved but we couldn’t do it as we had other things planned. It was a shame but there wasn’t much we could do other than get on with things.
Not really knowing what to do next, we went back out into the, now very annoying, rain and wandered back to the hostel. I hadn’t really noticed it before but the cloud cover was that low, the huge mountains dominating the landscape had almost completely disappeared. It really was quite bad and when we made it back inside, it was still thundering onto the roof creating a lovely, cosy feel. Since we wanted to make the most of the time we now had, we decided to take advantage of the free international phone calls and ring home for a little while. It was nice to actually be able to speak without the crackling and breaking up which seems to go hand in hand with Skype calls over here and I spoke to my mum for a while before giving the phone to Codie. I was going to ring my dad as well but there were people glaring at me obviously desperate to call home too and I couldn’t be bothered dealing with arguing so decided to ring later on or tomorrow instead. The last thing you want to do is make enemies in a little town as small as this even if it’s only over a phone! The next couple of hours was spent sorting things out and booking the fur seal kayaking in Kaikoura which we’ve had our eyes on for a while. We’d been waiting for the price to drop a little bit lower but now with our money refunded from our cancelled glacier trip, we thought we may as well just get it sorted. After one kayak disappointment, we definitely did not want to face another! Once that was sorted and we’d eventually managed to book a hostel for when we reached Christchurch, it was time for us to leave and spend a few hours bobbing around in some glacial water. As we walked along, we managed a little glimpse of the glacier and it looked absolutely stunning. I hoped the clouds would stay away long enough for us to get photos on the way back though I was quite doubtful of that. The weather just can’t be trusted here!
The Glacier Hot Pools are situated in the rainforest just down the road from all the hostels and are covered by sail like roofs to protect you from the weather. This seemed like a good idea when it was pouring down outside but as the clouds seemed to have almost completely vanished and the sun was now beating down hard on the pavement, it didn’t really seem to matter anymore. I couldn’t believe the drastic change since the morning and to add even more salt to the wound, it meant that the kayaking trip we had to turn down had been able to carry on with their trip. Grrrrrr. Still, we now had a while to just relax and sit back and relax. With our booking, we’d booked via bookme.com and so had managed to pretty much get a 2 for 1 deal, we were allowed to visit the 3 public pools; Te Puna Mahaki – The pool of calmness, Te Puna Makoha – The pool of tranquillity and Te Puna Marino – The pool of serenity. They were amazingly hot and after sitting in the 40C one for a bit, we ended up having to get out and go to the 36C one instead for fear of boiling like a lobster in a pot. That one was a little bit nippy though so we moved on to the 38C and it was just right. Talk about being Goldilocks!
An hour or so later and our skin was so wrinkled, we could’ve passed as elephants. I was also absolutely starving so after a quick shower and an awkward situation involving various naked wandering around, we left. I don’t know how people are so confident to be able to do that, I certainly couldn’t and I imagine that they didn’t end up standing in the shower accidentally soaking their towels through like I did. Grrrrr. Apart from that I’d really enjoyed the pool experience and I imagine that at a time when it was less full of splashing children they it really would be tranquil, peaceful and serene. It was still a great experience though and for somebody who is really missing a good bath, it was lovely to just sit back in a big pool of hot water and watch the clouds tickling the mountain tops.
After a quick detour to the hostel to drop off our wet clothes off and after devouring the most amazing breadcrumb/lasagne thing ever, we headed over to the West Coast Wildlife Centre for 4pm. It was time to meet New Zealand’s iconic bird; the kiwi. Obviously I was quite aware of these curios little things before we visited the sanctuary but nothing can prepare you for just how cute they are with their fuzzy little bodies and long, pink beaks. They were amazing and I can completely understand why NZ is so in love with them. Once we’d watched a short film about the species and had been quite shocked at the ginormous size of the kiwi egg (it’s practically the same size as the female!)*, we pushed open the door in the darkness and entered it’s lair. Due to them being nocturnal, the room was lit with red light and so we had to wait for our eyes to adjust before we were able to spot them though that didn’t prove to be difficult at all. A little feathered blob was moving about in the corner, scrabbling about in the dirt looking for tasty grubs and we were able to get up close for a proper look. What a strange little thing. It looked like if it tripped over anything, it’d fall face first onto the ground! It didn’t really even look much like a bird, more like something crossed with an echidna or something along those lines, and I think that’s part of what makes the species so interesting and addictive to look at. The first bird we saw was 6 months old and the next 2 were a mere 1 month and it was nice to be able to see the differences between them. The youngest ones were definitely a lot fluffier! We stayed there for a while just watching them wandering about, sticking their long beaks under logs in the search for food before deciding to move onto the next section.
Leaving the little birds to it, we left the darkness and found ourselves in front of another film, this time talking about how they are monitoring the ones released into the wild; Operation Nest Egg. I found it really interesting to learn that they attach radio tags onto their legs which transmit different beats depending on what the kiwi is doing. For example, during normal everyday activities, they emit 40 pulses a minute but if the bird is incubating an egg, that rises to 48 pulses a minute. By monitoring them in this way, rangers are able to keep an eye on the birds and it also allows them to give the chicks a fighting chance of survival. There are 4 min predators threatening the species and the stoat is currently number one due to it’s ravenous appetite for baby kiwis. With 19 out of 20 being killed before they reach adulthood, it’s vital that they are protected in some way so eggs are taken from the wild, the chicks incubated and raised at the centre until they reach a “stoat-proof” 1kg and then released again. The birds we saw were going to be released at some stage and it was nice to see them before that happened and with this particular species, the rowi, being so rare, it was also a privilege to see the work that is being done to conserve them. It’s nice to know that they’ve managed to successfully release at least 70 back into the wild, an incredibly significant amount when the entire species is made up of only a couple of hundred, and I really hope that their success continues in the future. It’d be such a shame to lose these birds.
Now quite full of kiwi information, we found ourselves in a glacier section and began soaking up all those facts too just as the ice flows absorbs the moraine (hehehe). As I’ve mentioned quite a few times, I love natural geographical things like this so I liked being able to read more about the Franz Josef glacier in particular like the fact it is one of a very limited amount of glaciers which is found above temperate rainforest and that it flows almost 10 times as fast as other glaciers in valleys. Pretty damn cool really. Or perhaps not to anyone who doesn’t really have much of an interest in thousands of years old, compacted ice. Hmmmm. Eventually we made our way out and after I’d bought myself a lovely kiwi keyring, it was time to go back to our room. I think the kiwi sanctuary has been one of my favourite places in New Zealand, if not my absolute favourite, as you’re really able to see the work that’s going into protecting and conserving kiwis in a really positive way. It may not be the biggest centre in the world and it may not have the most kiwis ever but I don’t think that matters at all. The priority isn’t to entertain the public, it’s to educate so if you’re looking to learn more about the iconic bird and really get up close, then it’s the perfect place for you to do that.
Despite it not being a particularly strenuous day, we slowly wandered back to the hostel to get ready for tonight’s free soup and pastry. I’m loving all the free food we’ve been getting and I think I shall be quite sad tomorrow when we leave. We’ve managed to save all the supplies we bought in preparation for our stay in the more remote areas too so that’s always helpful too. I think some of the hostels in Australia need to take note of New Zealand hostels’ hospitality and provide lots more tasty things! After stuffing our faces with a big bowl each and once Codie had managed to devour a huge chocolate filled donut, we made our way back to the room and the warmth of the heater to get sorted for tomorrow. I’m not sure what we’re going to be doing tomorrow before we get the bus apart from trying to ring home as they run a shuttle bus to the glacier which might be good or we could revisit the kiwi sanctuary. It’ll still be good whatever though as it’s a really nice place to be.. Even though it’s really small, Franz Josef is a lovely place and I wish we’d have been able to spend more time here. Yes the weather has been a bit of a pain, all the glacier activities were completely cancelled, but there’s nothing we could do about that other than try to make the most of being here and I really think we have done. It would have been nice to have been able to do the kayaking or make it up to the glacier however it really wasn’t the be all and end all of the trip and I’ve still had an amazing time. Next stop Queenstown!
*Just to make things clearer, according the the guide we were given, it’s like a human female giving birth to a six year old child!