A Short Holiday

5th October 1992; Heathrow, and waiting to start our travels south. First stop Hong Kong, nothing much of outdoor interest there unless you count the 45 degree cable car ascent of the peak. Or perhaps if you are speleologies bent the rather superb underground train system. After four days we continued, next stop Australia.
We stayed for a fortnight in the Melbourne area and apart from viewing the local inhabitants, wallabies, kookaburras etc. we walked up Mount Erica, floundering in deep, unseasonable snow. We took a trip to Port Campbell to the east of Melbourne where there was a great deal of impressive coastline with in many places great cliffs and stacks. One of these stacks is known as London Bridge but it has unfortunately suffered a collapse. Some of the bays showed signs, in the distant past, of being caves. There was the remains of stalagmites and calcite formations, the surface of one stack that we were able to walk onto had the appearance of having been a cave floor. We completed our visit to Aussie by a sleeper train to Sydney and a visit to the opera house.

Next stop Christchurch, New Zealand. The crowning jewel in that fair city is the Warriners Hotel, they serve pints of Stones Bitter!! Not those Antipodean frozen hints of beer in a minute glass. On to Queenstown, a pleasant town and a bit like a New Zealand Windermere but not as overrun. On our first day we walked up the local mountain, Ben Lomond, some four thousand foot of ascent and the view from the top was superb. Looking towards Mount Cook was one of those vistas of nothing but mountain tops stretching away to the horizon. The next day we moved onto Te Annu, another beautiful lakeside town and the start of the Milford Track. The track is a four day walk staying at huts. You can either do this the expensive way, carrying the absolute minimum with everything provided (£1000 ish), other cheap way carrying all of your gear and stay at huts which provide gas and bunks, independent as they call it. We chose the cheap way. The conservation ethic is very strong here and access to the Milford Track is tightly controlled. In fact we were lucky, they had only opened the track the day we set off, the danger of avalanches having kept it closed. The track itself is the single way through the area, everything else being allowed to “do its own thing” untouched by human hand. On our way then, the inevitable bus ride, a boat trip of a couple of miles; then the walking started. A short day with a mere 7K walk to the first hut at Clinton Forks. The track followed a wide shallow river and at one point we crossed the river by one of the many swaying suspension bridges that we were to use over the next four days. That night we were to see our first glow-worms.

The next day we were to walk to the Mintano hut, a steady 14.5K though several avalanche tracks, not your nice snow avalanches but rock and mud. The track passed an area of petrified forest, a small lake and the results of past avalanches. Shortly after this we were encouraged on our way by a descending rock, it missed us just! We arrived at the hut just after midday and were soon introduced to a local pest, the sand fly, they like biting you! Between fighting off the flies we watched river avalanches running down the upper levels of the surrounding mountains.

On our way again the next morning we temporarily left the rain forest that we
had been traversing and headed up towards the unstable snows of the
Mackinon pass. Some of our party were discomforted by some small snow slides and I think we were all happy to reach the summit of the pass. We carried on towards the Dumpling hut but we made a detour to see the Sutherland Falls, the highest in New Zealand and the seventh highest in the world, I think. A days walk of 14K and a wet and cloudy day at that but once at the hut we were able to light a stove and dry out. The next day was to be a distance of 18.5K and some were concerned about getting an early start. We were assured by the hut warden that we would receive an early call.
Early next day we got our call courtesy of the Kia. Promptly at 6am. these birds set up a racket to awaken the dead. A engaging bird the Kia, an ostentatious comedian, acrobat and car wrecker. (They are well known insurance risks ripping off windscreen wipers and removing rubber seating and even door handles!) Having ensured that all were awake, at six thirty they desisted. So taking advantage of the situation we made an early start, setting off for Sand fly point, continuing through the rain forest, this area being like a horror film setting with all the trees being festooned with moss. Sand fly Point lived up to its name but luckily there was a hut where we could escape from them as we waited for the ferry that would transfer us to Milford Sound, reportedly the wettest place on the globe.

Chris and I had booked a trip on a sailing schooner thing, an overnight trip out of Milford Sound and into the Tasman Sea. We boarded the “Wanderer” and were informed that the bar was open. All of the travellers that had just done the walk were more interested in the showers. The beer went down well slightly later. Despite the fact that the area was living up to its boast of 8000mm of rain per year being wet inside was not unduly dampening. It turned out that the sailing boat was without its sails, but no matter a - pleasant interlude.

Two days of traveling took us to our next outing, the Franz-Josef glacier. We spent a day on this, quite an experience. A wooded mountainous area, a valley and incongruously a wall of ice. Looking at it from its foot you would think that you would be able to reach its upper level in a few hours. We were told that it would take a couple of days to reach its summit and after seeing where we got in half a day I can well believe it! The glacier surprised me. We were climbing up and down 20-30 foot ridges, the crevasses did not appear to be very deep though, just deep enough to ensure that you did not fall down them.

Next a three day journey by bus and ferry to Wellington on the North Island. We went via a rather good pub in Nelson, we did not show anyone the photos of Chris enjoying the rock and roll evening fortified by numerous whisky macks. We were headed for the volcanic area of Rotorua but being Saturday afternoon the railways seemed to have closed down, still we caught a train going in the general direction and caught a bus the next day. Rotorua was to provide us with our most hilarious tourist trip.
We decided on a trip run by an outfit called Mud and Mountain. In the morning we were ferried around in a four wheel drive vehicle to the tourist thermal mud and hot springs, visiting a geyser which we were assured blew at lOam every day! And so it did, helped in its appearance by a liberal helping of washing powder!

Next we were taken for a swim in a stream or rather at the junction of two streams, one hot, one cold. After this the day really improved, we set off for the summit of Mount Tarawera a dormant volcano. The 4WD careered up a rough track with wheel ruts three to four feet deep traveling at an angle and speed that beggared belief. Thrown about like dice in a demented gamblers den we eventually arrived a few hundred feet below the summit. A walk to the summit and an ash and cinder scree run into the crater. After we had climbed out of the crater we rejoined the 4WD
and headed into the bush for a picnic lunch. This was followed by a bush walk along the river, a river that gradually disappeared down abandoned volcanic blow holes. Some time later the river reappeared roaring out of a cliff fifty feet up! And so back to Rotarua where we invited our guide for a drink: one drink led to another and by midnight we were back at the thermal spring skinny dipping. Eventually it was back to bed after an enjoyable and interesting day.

Next would you believe some caving. We moved to Waitomo. Here be caves. Before we left England we had read of the glow-worm caves. We soon found a trip that involved a 200 metre abseil and a river cave. This was billed as the “Big One” and was run by an outfit called Lost World. It was a two day enterprise, the first day we spent a couple of hours practising using a rack to descend an 80 foot shaft and a preview of The Big One. You could see where it got its name from, looking down a keyhole you could see the vegetation at the bottom of the massive sun filled shaft.
The next morning we found ourselves heading for the top of the shaft. Who wanted to go first? I wasn’t quite quick enough but I volunteered Chris and myself for the second descent. (there was two ropes rigged so you had company) Chris got on her rope first and then I found myself hanging free a few feet above her and three hundred feet above the cave floor. The racks only had fixed bars, to get moving was like lifting the Queen Elizabeth’s hawser, still we began to move, we stopped a couple of times to take photos (not a success) then gradually the weight of the rope began to decrease and we were on our way, exhilarating!

Once everyone had descended we departed from normal caving practice and enjoyed another picnic. On with the trip up over fallen boulders then down to a healthy stream. It was about half a mile to the resurgence, on the way Chris took the opportunity of a thirty foot jump into the stream, perhaps she thought she was a bird. The last few hundred feet of the cave contained the glow-worms, the roof thickly festooned with there luminous threads. Although this was a tourist trip it must be the nearest the public get to a caving trip.

Next day Chris would give me no rest, she fancied a white water rafting trip, it was grade 4. I was rather reluctant but we finished without parting company from the raft. In the afternoon we were back to the caves, this time a black water rafting trip. This consisted of floating through another cave stream passage sat in or hugging a car inner tube and again admiring glow-worms.

Our last day in Waitomo and New Zealand, I was determined to repay
Chris for the white water rafting, so we went horse riding. Another interesting
experience, up hill and down dale (more like bloody precipices) still, we managed to stay on the horses. In the afternoon we walked, the surface limestone is thinly layered in plate stack like formations. Most of the Waitomo caves appear to be stream passage with little horizontal development.

On to Auckland and farewell to what Chris Christened the adult playground of the world. A wonderful country and a bloody good holiday; and so to America.

Dick Wade

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