(Just to warn you this a long entry. It is about 90% rant so I wouldn't be offended if you skip to end.)
Before I could do the heli-hike on Franz Joseph glacier, I first had to get to Franz Joseph by the bus. I don't think I mentioned before, but on my journey from Nelson to Greymouth there was a rather odd American girl on the bus. I was sitting behind her and she was regailing the bus driver with a tales of her new Irish boyfriend she was to meet up with and get a room with in Greymouth. I thought that prehaps she shouldn't devulge such intimate information to a complete stranger especially one who is driving a large vechicle at high speeds, but I assumed she was just excited. As we stepped off the bus together she began to ramble to me about this 'dreamy Irish boy' with 'eyes so deep you could swim in them' and I near vomited- you must remember she said all this with an extremely annoying American acent as well. I made my good byes and secretly wished the boyfriend luck.
The next day I arrived at the bus station for the 4 hour journey to Franz Joseph and the American girl was there looking somewhat forelorn. She saw me and immediately launched into a monologue of her heartbreak. She had booked the hotel room and met up with him later, but then he dumped her in front of a bunch of his friends and went to the pub. Oh dear I said and tried to be of some comfort, but the words never reached my lips as her constant loud grating voice continued to spew out more and more. And we weren't even on the bus yet.
This diatribe continued and eventually after getting more and more intimate details that I in no way encouraged her to divulge (I didn't get the opportunity!) I was saved by the bus driver giving a very enthusiastic commentary and she was forced to shut up. The only problem was the driver was much like the one in Nelson and he gave a constant 4 hour narration about everything under the sun. There are times you just want to sit back and look out of the window. Play some music and have a little peace. But between the narration on the bus and the American talking at me during breaks, I got no relaxation on that journey.
Fortunately on arrival at Franz Joseph, she was staying somewhere else so I made my escape and found myself walking to the hostel with another infinitely more pleasant girl from Barcelona. She had one of those fabulous Spanish accents when speaking English that I just wanted to give her words to say and listen. We enjoyed the free soup at the hostel together and then I indulged in a bar of chocolate and a fine pinot noir (my new favourite type of red wine- please take note for future birthday gifts) I had purchased in desperation during a bus stop on the way.
Now it is important to mention at this point that the heavy rain was still continuing and my hopes for the heli-hike were diminished. But lo and behold the next morning, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, the clouds a mere whisper of what they once were. Joy! The gods were smiling down on me this day (where were they yesterday on the bus journey? They are fickle cruel masters). The ride was on. And what a nice trip it was too. Apart from feeling a little uneasy getting off and on the helicopter (that episode of ER still haunts me to this very day) it wasn't particularly scary and the views of the glacier were fantastic. I even took a little video of the ride on my camera which I felt was an achievement in itself. If I ever work outhow to post it on facebook then you can watch it and be very bored for 2 minutes. The glacier was surprisingly blue and looked like squashed candy floss. I got to put on crampons and carry an ice axe whilst walking over it and I felt like an explorer about to find treasure (unfortunately, I did not).
Afterwards I felt so exhilarated as soon I got back to the hostel I decided to go on a 4 hour walk in the woods, over a gorge (a bridge in situ) and on to the base of the mountain where the glacier was situated. I felt I was going quite a pace with my appropriate attire of hiking shoes and walking trousers when a tall blonde boy wearing a long sleeved white t-shirt and inappropriate shoes stormed past me at a terrfic speed. I continued on across the gorge and noticed that due to the rain, it did seem quite high. A few minutes later I saw the afore-mentioned boy except this time his glowing white shirt was covered in mud as was the rest of him. He told me the path was blocked by the high waters and despite his best efforts (evident by the state of his clothing) he could not get across. So we turned around and started a nice conversation. He was Swedish and was an ex-Kindergarden worker who had quit his job and gone travelling to 'find himself' (sound familiar?). He was touring around NZ in car and also sleeping in it. I expressed my concerns about this as it was now dropping below zero during the night and he said it was a little cold. I then enquired how he washed etc and he said every morning he drove to a lake and had a swim. I must point out again how bloody cold it was. This thought had me aghast and I offered to sneak him into my hostel so he could have a hot shower. But the gentleman that he was, he declined. We then arrived at the vechicle and I memorized its number plate incase in a few days it was found with a frozen body inside and they needed someone to identify the body.
I then then returned to the hostel still concerned about the welfare of my new friend, but I was soon distracted by the surprise of seeing the jail boy from the Abel Tasman walk in my dorm. He was travelling on a different bus service than me, a more organise-y, touristy type affair and had 2 awful days stuck on board with (in his words) 'a bunch of total arseholes'. He had decided to come to a different hostel than the rest of the bus and stay an extra day just to avoid them. Travelling can be such a small world.
As I learned the next day. The lovely Spanish girl and I both discovered we were going on the same bus to Queenstown on the 9 hour journey and this made me ponder somewhat.
My fears were realised as I waited for the bus and who turned up, but the American. As she walked toward me I resolved to try and be nice to her. She was young, had her heart broken and clearly wasn't really enjoying travelling alone. This resolve lasted approximately 14 seconds. She opened her mouth and let loose a complaining whinging whine that I can only describe as painful at best. She complained about the weather, the hostel, the bus and we'd not even got on the damn thing yet. The main problem (apart from her incredible annoying accent adn mis-pronounciation of words) was the fact she seemed incapable of listening and having a two way conversation. She would say something and if you managed to squeeze out a brief comment or answer, she wasn't able to pick up the thread of what you had said. Instead the soliloquy would continue as if your presence was not required (how I wish it wasn't).
As we boarded the bus this monologue continued, the Spanish girl wisely ran to the back of the bus and hid. Unfortunately, the American let me board first then sat next to me. She then asked where I was staying in Queenstown. Every part of me said 'LIE!' but I could not and I told her. "oh that sounds nice, I'll go there too'. NO NO NO. It got worse. She then asked when I was going to Milford Sound (a 12 hour bus trip to pretty fiordland). "Tomorrow" I whispered. "Oh, maybe I'll do it then too!'. Oh where were the gods now!
At the next meal break, I was enjoying my soup having a pleasant conversation with the Spaniard telling her about my previous time in New Zealand. I was discussing my visits to a local prison with a psychologist when the American girl screeched "OH MY GOD! Tell me you are not a psychotherapist! OH MY GOD! If you are I will just have to leave this table right now!'. Firstly, what I should have said was yes and got rid of her. However I was so taken aback by the shear volume of this statement and I couldn't actually gage her sincerity so I told her the truth- no. 'OH MY GOD! THANK GOD! BOTH MY PARENTS ARE THERAPISTS!
And with that statement it all fell into place.
After some more screeching from her, she went to the loo and I finally snapped and let my head fall into my hands and bemoaned the thought of spending yet another bus journey with her and a hostel. The Spaniard immediately gave me lots of sympathy and told me I should just tell her straight - go away. How I wished I was an empassioned Spaniard and had the courage. But I am a self-depreciating Scot and it just isn't in me. Instead I did the mature thing. For the rest of the journey I solidly ignored her, putting on my head phones at every opportunity and keeping my head buried in a book.
Amazingly, she must have got the message as on arrival at Queenstown she didn't follow me to the hostel I was staying at. I didn't exactly run away per say, I just didn't look back. But there was still the next day on the Milford Sound bus trip to face. I actually contemplated cancelling the trip, but then I realised how silly of me that would be and if I had to I would just have to find some Spanish courage somewhere in my Celtic bones.
The next morning I was relieved and delighted on my arrival at the bus stop, that the girl was not there. Joy, joy, joy! However, this was short lived when a taxi pulled up and an aged granny got out. She immediately began to talk to no one in particular and then turned her sights on me. I should have learned my lesson. I should have stayed quiet. I should have run. But I did not, instead I answered her questions and attempted to make polite chat. And attempted is the right word. Now I know I have a reputation for being a bit incomprehensible at times, but when speaking to aged grannies whilst standing by a bus stop in a foreign country, I do attempt to slow down and speak clearly. Obviously not clearly enough. She didn't understand a word I was saying and as such I was getting some very peculailar responses to the conversation we were attempting to have. She then make a incredible racist comment that really threw me - I mean it was only 7am, it was a bit early for that sort of thing. Fortunately, the bus then arrived and we began to board. I was then faced with a choice. Sit near the racist granny and endure a day of garbled conversation or let her get on first and run to the back of the bus and hide.
I'm not proud of what I did, but I did the latter. I just could not endure another 12 hour bus journey in hell. I was temporarily racked with guilt about this decision. As I walked past her, I saw her expectant face fall as I kept moving on toward the back. Guilt, guilty, nasty girl. But as I said, temporarily, as shortly afterwards a Japanese girl tried to sit next to her (the bus was almost full) and she wouldn't let her. Racist granny. My guilt was gone.
Anyway the reason for the bus trip was go and see Milford Sound, a legendary fiord of beauty featured in such films as Lord of the Rings and more recently, the new X-men film (the bit were Hugh Jackman jumps naked into a waterfall). The problem with popular places is 1. they are popular, many other people are there and 2. hype. Hype is a terrible thing. It can make the extra-ordinary disappointing or at least expected. And I have to be honest this was the case with Milford. Beautiful without doubt. A lake with mountains arising from it, waterfalls cascading from everywhere etc etc. So as beautiful as it was I couldn't help but think back to one of my days spent in Napier on the North Island. A place not particularly renound for it's beauty, I walked down from the backpackers (the prison one if you recall) and stumbed upon a black pebble beach with sea stretching out like infinity and mountains on each sides like bookends. It was such an unexpected beauty, I sat down on the pebbles just looking out to the sea for some time, struck by the tranquility. So Milford Sound, as lovely as it was didn't quite have the same inpact as Napier in its surprising glory. And I wasn't hiding from a racist granny there either.
After my seemingly endless days of bus journeying, I spent my final day in Queenstown doing nothing in particular. Queenstown is known for being a gateway for adventure activites, but I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous plus I'd actually been to Queenstown on my previous visit to New Zealand so didn't feel as compelled so explore every knook and cranny of the place. However, I did manage to find a second hand bookshop. If that was a talent that recieved payment, I would be a millionaire.
And then the next day I left (on a day long bus journey of course) to go to Christchurch my final South Island destination. And, yes, you guessed it I wasn't alone on this journey. As I stood waiting in the freezing cold thinking (rather naively of me by this stage) that I would enjoy a quiet journey reading my book, who turns up......... No not the American fortunately, but the racist granny.
Karma is a bitch.