Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Few Extreme Flying Kiwi Adventures!

After we enjoyed some post-whitewater-rafting hot showers, it was time again to hit the road. We stopped briefly in a town called Geraldine (pronounced by our guide with a proper southern drawl) and then headed toward Lake Tekapo. Some of us hopped off the bus early to enjoy a bike ride into our camp at a holiday park on the shores of the lake. We were told it was a fairly easy ride, but there might be some wind.

It turned out to be one of those rides where I wished I could have changed my mind 1 km down the road. The bus pulled away and we set off, immediately encountering some headwinds. It was a struggle to power through and we had about 25 km to go! Once again, those riders with machine-like quads took off, though they didn’t disappear quite as quickly this time. Naomi and I fell into pace again as we struggled to battle the severe winds.

First glimpse of Lake Tekapo

It was a relief each time we approached a downgrade, as I got my hopes up for some easier pedaling and a moment to rest while gravity took over to carry me down the hill.
Boy was I wrong! The wind on the hills made it feel as though I was pedaling just as hard as I would for flat ground or even an incline! The moment at the bottom of a hill where you have your fastest speed and can relax for a minute wasn’t there. The second you ceased pedaling, the wind slowed your speed significantly. I felt like I would start moving backwards if I didn’t continue cranking hard!

The Church of the Good Shepherd

I was tired. I wasn’t sure how much further we had or if I would make it all the way to camp. Naomi and I commiserated over our headwind battle and stuck together for the most part. There were more hills that we imagined and the headwind was worse than any I had ever experienced! Later, we found out we were camping at a different site than Flying Kiwi normally does that night, simply to seek additional shelter from the severe winds!


We pedaled hard and, eventually, saw signs for the town of Lake Tekapo and spotted our first glimpse of the lake. We stopped, as suggested, at the Church of the Good Shepherd to take in the view. A small stone church sitting on a hill with a backdrop of a beautiful lake and dramatic mountains was certainly worthwhile to visit! It was here I revisited my obligatory headstand (and was photographed by Dave from The Planet D)!

It wasn’t too much further around the lake to get to the holiday park and by the time we arrived I was feeling fairly accomplished with the ride. I joined my cook group to whip up a ginormous batch of spaghetti bolognaise and settled into my tent for the night. Sophia (my tentmate) had intelligently decided to upgrade to a dorm while I lay listening to the howling wind as it attempted to turn my tent into a kite all night long!

Shores of Lake Tekapo


The next morning it was time for new adventures. We headed up Hooker Valley towards Aoraki (Maori word for Mount Cook) to hike around the Mount Cook basin. The sky was overcast in spots, but while driving around Lake Pukaki we spotted a rainbow and were hopeful the clouds would burn off to enhance the views from our walk! 

Lake Pukaki rainbow

By the time we arrived at the trailhead, it was raining solidly. We had a few hours to complete our walk (that was meant to have awesome views of Mount Cook) in the rain. After bundling up with waterproof layers and a pit stop at the toilet block, the group of us who were keen set off on our walk!

Retrospectively, I can tell you we hadn’t listened very closely to Holly, our guide, as she told us about the hike. We followed each other and began walking a very wet trail up a mountain. The track was steep, rough, and narrow – quite typical of NZ tramping tracks (aside from the more populated "great walks") – and fairly soon the rain changed to sleet! A few people turned back pretty quickly, some headed off to do a shorter track and others simply retreated back to the bus. Several of us persevered.

Constant rain left puddles on my camera lens!

The trail was made up of heaps of broken rocks piled on top of each other. Occasionally there were railroad ties to prevent the rock from sliding down hill, and provide a bit of extra solidity, but often it was simply a narrow, steep, rocky trail. We continued to follow the DOC (Department of Conservation) orange trail markers, wondering how far we’d have to go to earn our view of Mount Cook. We could see lots of green around us – the rain always seems to intensify that part of the spectrum – and a lake sitting between the mountains. The clouds were low, however, so everything was hazy. On a distant mountain we could see a large waterfall, and further up the valley we saw a glacier through the fog.

The "before" shot

At some point, it began to hail. We were pelted by the little balls and were starting to question our guide’s sanity for sending us on this tramp, especially given the weather! There were a few portions of the trail where I felt like I should be roped up for some rock climbing – faces that would not be very difficult to pass when dry, but we had to be extra careful as the rocks were soaked and slippery!

I knew there were a couple guys ahead of me, and there were one or two people walking with me, but it appeared most others had already had enough and turned back. It was after enduring this much of the trail that one of my companions, Vimal, mentioned he had done the intended walk last year, but that what we were on didn’t seem familiar. We kept wondering if the trail branched off in the direction he thought it should go, but when he compared how much higher we had climbed this time, it seemed we had come a different way. I recalled the beginning of the trail where there was a sign pointing towards the 3 hour walking trail we set out on, and knew it was the only one marked with that timeframe.

Eventually I decided it was silly to continue. What more were we going to see, anyway? I was cold and drenched to the bone. I had zipped off my pant legs early on to reduce the amount of cold wet material clinging to my skin. My jacket was proving to keep my torso mostly dry, but I did not have gloves and my feet were heavy with rain. I knew my knees were not going to be very happy heading back down the steep track so it was about time to turn around. Vimal and I gave up and retreated at around the same time, backtracking along the trail we had just come.

I turned around to climb backwards down some steep rock faces, and took my time following the trail back down. We thought we had followed the path we came up, but soon approached a waterfall that we didn’t remember seeing on the way up. 

At first we tried to turn back to figure out where the trail had gone, but then I spotted the orange triangle. This was the trail we came up! There had been so much rain that the soaking wet trail became even wetter. It built up into a stream of water rushing down the steep rocks! 

I laughed out loud at what nature was throwing my way! First the gale-force headwinds the evening before, now a freezing waterfall to wade through; what’s next?

The "after" shot!

Unless we were to try and make our way off the trail through the thick vegetation and down the steep slope, we had no other option but to wade through the stream, climbing down the track-turned-waterfall! The water was powerful, but the rocks were fairly secure underfoot since it is usually a walking track. Once again taking our time, we made our way down to the bottom.

Glacial views

I kept our eye out for everyone who had continued ahead of us, and of course had to get a picture of the survivors – however cold and wet we were!

Adventurous Flying Kiwi "survivors"!

Windy bike rides and waterfall trails might seem difficult and ridiculous to endure in the moment, but they certainly create lasting memories! Just think, this whole post could have been a mere sentence if nothing exciting had happened, but instead I’ve been able to entertain you with all the dramatic details! Although fun to retell, hopefully the rest of my NZ tramping and cycling experiences won’t be quite as exciting! After an eventful morning, we headed east for a short stop in Oamaru before continuing to our costal camp in Kakanui for a quiet night.


  1. Nice legs! Awesome pictures of the glacier! I also love the picture of you wading through the waterfall, er, the trail...

  2. Haha, thanks Em :) It was definitely an interesting swim... err.. hike!


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