NZ has a lot going for it. It has mountains, forest, and beach. It’s relatively large yet minimally populated. It’s well off and comes high on the happiness index. It’s population is relatively young, very well educated, and outdoor sports are on everyone’s agenda. This meant that Emily and I managed to do a lot of fun stuff without much difficulty.
My longest running friend, Ben, now lives in Cromwell, the epicentre of fruit growing. He emigrated to NZ several years ago and his life in NZ is pretty great. Hanging out with him and his blossoming family was great and it made me think that I could probably live in NZ. There aren’t many places I think I could live, but North California and the South Island of NZ are two places that are on the shortlist. The only flaw of NZ is that it lacks truly world class bouldering (then again, I live in England!).
Looking confused as to why I’m the only one paddling
Our original intention was to go kayaking in Milford Sound, partly because we expected it to rain every day and partly because we had no beta on the climbing. Our first day there defied expectations and turned out to be a glorious day of sunshine and blue skies. We hit the water on a guided tour around the sound. We didn’t venture particularly far into the sound but we had a great day. From the water the surrounding peaks really took on a magnificent stature as they grew dramatically from the waters edge. Due to the lack of rain we were able to get up close to some huge waterfalls. Peering beyond their tops it was possible to see how Milford Sound gets it’s water and power. The volume of water flowing per second must be gigantic and provides an endless source of nutrition for the tiny hollow.
A wonky milford sound, a treevalanche scar, and some morning sunshine
The story of how Milford Sound came to be is pretty interesting. It turns out that the son of a God had a chip on his shoulder so he got a giant lightsaber and cut the whole pace out of solid rock, just to try and get some positive validation from his parents. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. Perhaps: “Do something amazing and you’ll get the love and adoration of those around you otherwise you’re nothing”. Maori culture seems tough.
The way up, a sketchy northshore section, and Ben trying to keep up
Living close to Queenstown means 2 things: access to great burgers at Fergburger and high quality DH riding. We hired some bikes for an afternoon and hit the gondola.
I was really looking forward to ripping down the mountain on the Specialized Demo that I’d hired from Outside Sports. I love mountain biking as it offers something that just doesn’t exist in climbing: speed. It also tests me in a very different way. It’s hugely psychological, in a way that’s very different from trad climbing, so getting amped to hit a big jump/drop is always good fun. Unfortunately the experience was disappointing. The Demo was awfully set up, not particularly well maintained, and I felt like I was fighting rather than flowing. Ben had hired a Giant Glory and swapping bikes was like night and day. I was a little annoyed about it but riding with Ben was great fun. Almost like nothing had changed in 15 years!
Emily, on the other hand, had an awful day. She hired a Giant Reign and it was so badly set up that it defied belief. I may not be a professional rider but I was once offered some sponsorship, I have ridden a lot, and I also worked as a bike mechanic. So when I tell a shop that my wife’s bike needs attention only to be met with “it’s fine” I get quite annoyed. The brake levers were travelling all the way to the bar, so 1 finger braking meant crushing the other 3. 2 finger braking reduced the control and still crushed the 3rd finger. It was really irritating to be told that the brakes were fine, so shame on you Vertigo Bikes. I know rental bikes takes a beating but there’s no need to have them unusable.
Ben was kind enough to take us paddle boarding after the weather in Wanaka crapped out and meant we couldn’t go flying. My very first question was if he had wetsuits. I’d heard padde boarding was kind of difficult and the river was inevitably going to be cold. Ben assured me that it was easy and that we didn’t need wetsuits. I insisted, so Emily and I got wetsuits and Ben went in shorts and a t-shirt.
The current in the river wasn’t too swift but I was very aware that only 1 minor wobble would result in getting saturated. Ben went out first, made it look very easy, then Emily followed. I actually expected her to fall in but she proved me very wrong and got straight on. I was last and slowly stepped on the board. As I was quickly trying to learn how my movement affected the pitch, Ben came over to reassure me. As he came across in front of me he looked directltly at the camera and then developed a tiny wobble, which in the blink of an eye resulted in him being dunked in the river. Proof! It wasn’t so easy after all!
Ben showing us how it’s done
An hour later we were miles down river and it turns out that paddle boarding isn’t all that difficult. Ben just got unlucky (and cold). Neither Emily nor I fell in and I was really impressed by Emily’s skills. Although, to be honest, she was hankering for a swim so I think she was trying all sorts of pirouettes because she wanted to fall in… She was definitely the champ of the day.