To pick up where we left off…
(Yes, we know it was a long time ago. Sorry about that. Try and jog your memory a little.)
Also, we are still not sure why the formatting is so funny. Hopefully you can enjoy the stories despite all that.
They were not kidding when they said a big storm was rolling in. It was more than raining cats and dogs. Instead, it was raining elephants, whales, monkeys, bears, llamas, and dinosaurs. This storm was nuts! In fact, it ended up being much worse than anyone had suspected or ever seen before. The rain just kept on coming and the wind was just gnarly, blowing so hard that the walls, floors, and ceilings were shaking. For a bit, there was even some hail rattling down from the dark skies. As time went on it just got wetter, windier, and wilder. While this meant for no hiking or cruises around the Sound, it did make for a nice relaxing day of book reading, game playing, and movie watching. (Seemed appropriate that we watch Lord of the Rings since it was filmed here and neither of us had really ever seen it before.) In a weird sort of way, it was refreshing to have an excuse to do nothing, have no computers, and just totally chill out without feeling guilty about not taking advantage of where we were at since honestly, we didn’t really have a choice. In addition to a lack of guilt, with the road being closed and the population being so tiny, it was kind of cool to know that we were two of only about 200 people there experiencing this. It made it feel like this special little secret that we were all sharing together.
Don’t you worry though, during all of this stormy weather we did manage to get outside for a little stint. The first morning, before the storm really gained any huge momentum, we set out to find Bowen Falls. Several locals had filled us in on its location and its awesomeness. All the better in the rain is what we kept hearing. So we figured, why not? When in Rome, right? Off we went with our instructions to finding the infamous Bowen Falls. The official trail leading there had been closed a few years ago (although you can find locals there almost any day there is rain…which is often) making it even more appealing. We had to hop two fairly tall fences to get there, but holy smokes was it worth it! After you are over the second fence, you can hear this dull roar. The farther you go, the louder it gets. Then, all of the sudden, you walk around this corner and there it is. You are literally in the waterfall. It is like a hurricane! There is water thundering down with so much force it is unbelievable. The wind is pounding at you, the spray of water is blinding you, and your heart can hardly keep up with the adrenaline pumping through your body. It is incredible! The sheer power being generated by nature right in front of your very own eyes leaves you absolutely speechless.
The craziest thing was that we didn’t even make it to the heart of the water. A little ways into the brunt of the falls, we both started to get butterflies in the tummy and decided it would be wise to leave while it was still fun and we were both still standing. As we were walking back to the lodge still reeling from that electrically terrifying experience, we looked over our shoulder and glanced at that beast of a waterfall from a distance. With the added rainfall, Bowen Falls was really humming. There was water spewing probably 30+ feet from the drop straight out into midair. Wow! That was truly one of the more epic displays of nature I think either of us had ever witnessed up close and personal. Later that night, we relived it again and again while talking with our friend Parker over a few beers once he was finally able to escape from the chaos of the increasingly antsy hoard of lodge guests. We suggested that he let them in on the same tip he gave us regarding the Bowen Falls excursion and likely he would be rid of more than half of them. However, group consensus ruled that that experience was far to special and unique to share with just anyone. Thanks for letting us in on the local secret Parker!
Surprise! It was still raining buckets when we woke up the next morning. Our dreams of hiking in Fiordlands or taking a Milford Sound Cruise were rapidly diminishing…meaning that they were all but gone. Everyone at the lodge was hanging out in the lounge area awaiting news on the road closure status, but in the meantime, more games and books it was! In between Scrabble rounds, Ron and I started to discuss our options. It turned out that the Routeburn trailhead was on the other side of the tunnel and therefore unreachable until the road opened up. Even if/when the road opened, we would have to camp near the trailhead in the horrendous weather. Even better, the road leading to where our car was parked on the other side was closed as well so if we were to get there via trail we would be just as stuck as we were at the moment. As if that were not enough to deter us, there were some rumors going around that sections were impassible due to flooding and rock fall threats. With pretty much all the cards stacked against us, we conceded to Mother Nature and were skunked again. Having spent over two days hanging out in Milford Sound only to turn around without so much as a mile hiked or a glance at the Sound. We were pretty disheartened, but on the bright side it is just further evidence that someday we will have to come back. No question about it.
So that was that then. We found ourselves a ride back to Queenstown and when the road finally opened at 5pm for a small convoy of vehicles to evacuate we were on our way. Once in Queenstown, we started to really understand the scale of this storm. While it had not been nearly as violent of a storm, the water levels had risen four meters…or 12 feet…and the lake on which Queenstown sits is enormous! (Think along the lines of the Great Lakes.) It was so bizarre to see park benches submerged and whole beaches underwater as we strolled around that night. They are not kidding when they say the weather here is unpredictable.
Ron hitched back to our anxiously awaiting rental car the next morning and found it safe and sound just where we left it. As we drove out of Queenstown that evening, we were reminded that despite the curveballs New Zealand has pitched us thus far, this is still an absolutely fabulous country. We stopped at roadside lookout to cook what we hoped would be a particularly tasty dinner. While dinner was edible, it certainly did not live up to its expectations. Our consolation prize however was the gorgeous country side we were overlooking where the sheep grazed across an array of rolling hills, shimmering lakes, and vastly beautiful fields. Even better was our campsite later that evening. Perched right on a riverbank, we sat as the sun painted the sky with another amazing New Zealand sunset before settling into our tent only to be soothed to sleep by the rhythm of the unimaginably blue, rushing river. Way to redeem yourself New Zealand!
Morning broke and we lazily made our way to Fox Glacier where the next day’s adventure was awaiting our arrival. With a forecast for lots of rain and clouds, we were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful, blue bird day. We had nothing specific planned for a day predicted to be so gloomy so we took advantage of the unexpected sunshine and strolled the streets of this itty bitty township before starting the night off right with a bbq and movie in the hostel lounge with all our fellow nomads. That night, despite the stormy forecast, we went to bed with high hopes for another sunny day for our full day guided hike up the famous Fox Glacier, complete with crampons and ice axes, scheduled for the next day.
Well, looks like the meteorologists did their homework this time. In case the pounding rain hitting the tin roof outside our window was not enough to wake us, there was plenty of thunder and lightening to ensure we were wide awake well before our alarm was set to go off. A quick breakfast and we were off to the Fox Glacier Guiding building knowing that this was a rain or shine deal. While the rain or shine part is true, unfortunately it is not a thunder or lightening kind of deal and thanks to the consistent presence of these storm features our hike was cancelled.
It was almost comical at this point having been skunked out of the majority of our big New Zealand plans by this country’s unpredictable weather patterns. We were pretty bummed, but as we drove onward we realized that we were still so incredibly lucky. What if this had been our two week vacation for the whole year like most of the population? Instead, we had been on the road for close to seven months and the bulk of our plans had worked out. We have already seen and done more than we could ever dream of! We prefer to think of it as New Zealand making completely sure we will come back. Don’t you worry about that New Zealand. One day we will most definitely be back!
We reached Greymouth in the early afternoon and checked into our hostel. Not long after, we were touring the local microbrewery, Monteith’s. Over the few weeks we have been here we have sampled a smattering of their beer and it has all been wonderful. Finally good beer after all these months! (We will never take Colorado’s microbrews for granted ever again. Promise!)
Knowing that the next morning we were to part ways with our rental car and hence our travel time in New Zealand was drawing to a close. (Although our month of farmstay work was just beginning.) We began to reminisce about our time here over a couple of the free Monteith’s taster pints and just couldn’t help but smile. This country is truly one of a kind. The people are warmer. The sunsets are longer. The blues and bluer. The greens are greener. In a word, New Zealand is vibrant in every sense of the word.
Now it’s time to learn how to milk some cows and herd some sheep. Yikes! Wish us luck!
Check out the full gallery of photos here: