New Zealand Tour – Thrills & Spills

Our first adventure after the orienteering was white water rafting. This took place on the Kawarau River at Queenstown. UVHS joined with the Havelock school and 6 mixed rafts set off down the river. Our first challenge was to get into the river to experience the flow and cold. Fortunately, the wet suits did their job and the only problem was to get back into the raft (which some found more challenging than others). After that the activity became quite frantic – the rapids became progressively bigger, and in the flat water there were raiding parties between rafts which resulted in more people in the river then the rafts!!

Passing under the Bungy jump was quite an eye opener (say no more) and we rapidly approached the last and largest rapid. Everyone got through safely until the last raft (with the teachers). Despite paddling when told we still managed to hit the huge rock in the centre of the river. All the other rafts turned ready to implement a full scale rescue. Fortunately, there was sufficient ballast in the teachers raft to survive and we sailed through to a round of applause.

Our next excursion was much more sedate – a trip along Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound was named by Capt. Cook who saw the fiord in 1770, but didn’t enter as he was ‘doubtful’ of his ability to sail out again. Our luck continued to hold and we had almost perfect weather – a cloudless sky and little wind. Unfortunately, the lack of rain in recent days resulted in the waterfalls being very reduced in volume. The trip started with a cruise over Manapouri Lake and a visit to the underground power station. Then a coach took us over the pass to Doubtful Sound.

This fiord is a flooded glacial valley and is much longer and quieter than the more well known Milford Sound. With a nature guide on board pointing out all the sights etc we sailed peacefully down to the entrance with the Tasman Sea. On the way we passed Coronation Peak with is only visible 1 day in 10 because of the usual rainy conditions. Sea conditions became quite exciting for those of us on the top deck as we watched Little Blue Penguin, Fur Seals and Royal Albatross. We then returned, passing hanging valleys (Mr Mitchell please note), back to Manapouri.

We then travelled to Fox Glacier via the beautiful Haast Pass. This took us past Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka which were quite stunning in the bright sunshine. The Haast Pass was completed in 1965 and took us from the parched grasslands of Central Otaga to the verdant rain forests of the West Coast. Here we met the dreaded Sandfly, which took a liking to some of the group.

The group embarked on a ‘Fox Glacier Walk’. This took us along the valley floor to the snout of the glacier. Here we turned to climb the sides of the valley to gain access to the glacier. This involved an uphill climb over 833 steps (yes, we did count them all). Our side entry to the glacier gave us immediate access to crevasses and seracs. Guides had been out early that morning cutting steps and we were able to walk quite a distance along the glacier listening to it creaking and groaning and looking down the various holes. Overhead, the local helicopter firm were doing a roaring trade as the views were spectacular (maybe next time – anything but those steps!!).

The next few days will see us continue up the West Coast and over the passes to the East Coast and our encounters with large marine mammals.