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Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Let me start with a confession. I cheated. Before you get shocked that I sold my soul for a mere meal, let me reassure you that I did not slide into eating meat. Not even in my most hungry moments was I tempted to jump out of the car on the SH-1 and run up the rolling hills to steal a sheep or two for my much delayed lunch. Yes, there are 12 million sheep in New Zealand and if I had made away with a couple for a quick takeout meal, they wouldn’t have been missed, but that’s not the point. I have been a lifelong vegetarian and mean to stay that way.

No, what I really meant was that I didn’t do a whole lot of exploring native cuisine that we’re expected to do while traveling. We are told that a great deal of a culture is mixed up with the cuisine and to explore native cuisine is to immerse oneself in that culture. Alas, I failed in that in New Zealand. Since the staple cuisine of New Zealand is steak, sea food, lamb or venison, what did you expect, really?

So I cheated by eating a lot of Indian food. And since I’m Indian myself, this is very unglamorous and non-adventurous. In my defense, I can only say that in all the major cities -Auckland, Wellignton and Queenstown, and even in the smaller towns such as Greymouth, Franz Josef – Indian food  was readily available. Even when I told myself that I would try to find a different type of cuisine, I ended up succumbing to Indian food. I would be walking around pretending to look for something both vegetarian and ‘authentic’ and suddenly, my taste and smell buds would be hit by a combination of about 22 different Indian spices. I’d shrug to myself and head over to eat dal makhani or paneer tikka from  restaurants that called themselves Rasoi, Tulsi or Flavors of India. I didn’t try very hard to resist the temptation.

Of course there are other options as well for vegetarians. Thai restaurants are ubiquitous, and one can get vegetarian versions of most dishes. Just ask them to skip the fish or oyster sauce and send up a prayer that they don’t add any other sort of obscure sauce derived from some poor animal without its explicit approval.

Turkish and Greek restaurants and bistros also seem to be very popular. I did try to eat at a Greek restaurant one day, but readily gave up when it did not seem to be well stocked with veggie options. The guy behind the counter pointed to one single item on the menu – falafels -when I asked about vegetarian food, and said they did not have anything else. While I like falafals, I didn’t much like his attitude. So back I headed to the Indian joint -hey they had at least a dozen dishes.

There’s nothing as filling and nourishing as an authentic New Zealand breakfast, as I found at one of our homestays. The jam was all homemade, and so was the honey. Manuka honey is a New Zealand specialty and is said to possess antiseptic properties. And is tasty as hell.

I also fell madly in love with the mocachino in New Zealand, but it deserves a separate post by itself.

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Hiking Fox Glacier

“Follow me closely and never stray from the group. Do not go out on the ice on your own”, warns our guide just before we start on our hike of Fox Glacier. Back at the café where the hiking company has its headquarters, we have already been given very filthy hiking boots to wear and a pair of crampons to carry with us in our backpacks until we need them on the glacier. In a tone that will not brook dissent, our guide is now giving us safety instructions for the hike and cannot emphasize enough that we have to follow rules on the glacier.  To me, it seems rather tame to be merely following so closely in the footsteps of our fearless leader (as I label her in my mind). I chalk her warnings down to sales talk. After all, if tourists start venturing out on their own, won’t the hiking company lose business? When I drove up to view Fox Glacier yesterday, it had seemed very calm  and non-intimidating. Surely there is opportunity for some improvisation on the ice?

 

There certainly is not, it turns out. Near the glacier’s Terminal Wall, there are signboards asking people not to not venture beyond the barriers. To really emphasize the point, the authorities have pasted a newspaper article that tells of two brothers who had jumped over the barriers to take pictures, and unluckily for them that day, the rocks and ice had come crashing down and killed them. The message is clear: Fox Glacier may look calm, but it can spring nasty surprises any minute. Okay, point taken. It was not sales talk after all.

 

I have signed up for the half day hike, choosing it over the spectacular 30 minute helicopter ride over Fox and Mt. Cook that my husband and our 16 month old baby had opted for. I, on the other hand, preferred something more active and with a longer duration. The prospect of taking half a day off from diaper duty (babies are not allowed on the glacier) was an added incentive. I was sorely tempted to do both the hike and the helicopter trip, but the family finances would have groaned under the strain.

So here I am, looking at a white river of snow as far as my eye can see. In the distance there are tall jagged cliffs beyond which hikers cannot venture. Surprisingly, the ice is not pure white, as one might have expected. It looks dirty in spots, due, we are told, to minerals. The ice melts and forms the river that runs down from the glacier. The river looks grey because it is washing down all the minerals. To my surprise, I find that I do not even need my jacket while on the ice and can manage perfectly well in my T-shirt for much of the time. I wonder why.

The answer is that Fox really is a very odd sort of glacier. Strictly speaking, it has no business to be sharing the same location as tropical rainforests or being just 300m above sea level, but it manages to do both. Fox originates in New Zealand’s Southern Alps and winds down 13 km until it reaches the sea, sharing its terrain with Franz Josef and Tasman glaciers, among several others. As if this weren’t enough notoriety, it also lies on an earthquake faultline. Fox and its fellow glaciers alternate between advancing and retreating. One decade they are steadily advancing and the next, retreating.  Back at the café, they showed us a photograph of the glacier in the 1980s. It was in retreat, with a lot less ice. Subsequently, it started to advance and became fuller. According to our guide, (and contrary to popular wisdom), the advancing and retreating of Fox Glacier does not have much to do with global warming. Apparently, it depends on weather patterns further up on the Southern Alps. The advancing of the glacier is responsible for causing rock and ice falls and this is a major reason why venturing on the ice so dangerous.

 

From the Terminal Wall, our group makes its way to the ice along a very rocky path. I am now thankful for the filthy hiking boots they made us wear. My regular sneakers would not have lasted very long on this terrain. Just before getting on the ice, we are asked to put on our crampons. The Fearless One shows us how to tie the crampons underneath our boots so that they are positioned to grip the ice firmly. ‘You will need to change the way you walk. Make sure your feet land such that the crampons touch the ground first’. Yes, ma’am. We do our best imitation of gorillas walking on a red hot surface.

As we walk up the glacier slope, our guide tells us of a Maori legend about the Franz Josef glacier next door. There once lived on the mountains a girl called. Hinehukatere, who fell in love with a lad who lived at the foot of the hills called Tawe. She persuaded him to come and stay with her on the mountain-top. But being inexperienced on the mountain, Tawe fell down to his death one day. Hinehukatere was heartbroken and cried and cried and cried. Seeing her grief, the gods took pity on her and converted her tears to ice, causing the glacier to form. Not very helpful, I think. The gods ought to have exerted themselves a bit more and actually revived the guy.

Our way downhill on the glacier is very slippery, and I am rather apprehensive. But never fear, our guide has a solution. With a few brisk strokes of her pickaxe, she cuts steps into the ice, allowing us to descend safely. But here, right in the middle of the glacier, slippery ice is not the worst problem. There is the possibility of plummeting down into holes that are not visible because they have been covered by snow. In fact, we are assured that it will be almost impossible to pull us out, should we fall into one. If we were not already fully convinced about staying close on the heels of our leader, we now totally are. This is the other reason, apart from  the falling rocks, that visitors are asked to not venture on the glacier on their own, unless they happen to be experienced.

As we descend, we see an ice cave in the ground. Quickly, a rope is tied down into the cave, sort of like a clothesline. Gripping the rope and balancing ourselves carefully, we take turns going down in pairs. Fear of slipping into holes, however, is not strong enough to deter tourists from taking pictures of themselves. Predictably, each of us hands our camera to our partner to take our photos, no doubt with the intention of posting these onto Facebook.

Because, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

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