x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dolphins, glaciers and more in 48 hours down under

The nomad This week, a trip to the Franz Josef Glacier in new Zealand.

I woke up at 6am to catch an early bus from Christchurch. We were only 15 minutes into our journey when I realised what the hype regarding New Zealand's scenery is all about. On both sides of the road, the majestic landscape stretched out before me with hills and mountains covered in trees of green and red. I was truly mesmerised by the assortment of colours in view and understood then why some people call New Zealand heaven on earth. As we progressed towards Kaikoura the driver took us on a winding, mountainous road. I caught a glimpse of the beach through the spaces between the peaks. When we finally drove along the beach itself I saw colonies of seals clustering on the harbour's rocks. When we arrived at the shore I met up with a tour group and a guide instructed me and a dozen other tourists on how to swim with dolphins. We were shown a brief video before donning wetsuits and climbing into a small boat. After a short ride, we grabbed snorkels and fins, and jumped into the cold, choppy sea. One of the tricks to attract dolphins is to make silly, high pitched, sounds through the snorkel the entire time. This was what the introductory video taught us, anyway. Along with the other tourists, I squeaked in my snorkel in hopes that the dolphins would come. Sure enough, soon there must have been more than 30 dolphins swimming around us. The other trick we learnt from the video was to swim in circles with our hands still and by our sides. This encouraged the dolphins to follow our lead and swim in the same circular motion alongside us. I've always liked dolphins but this was the first time that I've ever been in the water with one and I found the experience truly enjoyable. The ride back, however, was not so pleasant. The waves were increasing and wildly rocked the vessel from side to side. I was struck by nausea but managed steel myself and avoid being sick. That was not the case with some of the other passengers. Four out of the 12 aboard spent the next few minutes vomiting repeatedly into buckets, which made it even more difficult for me to withstand the temptation to follow their lead. I managed, however, to arrive back at Kaikoura Beach woozy but upright and with only 15 minutes to shower and catch my return bus. When I did re-enter my four-bed dorm room at the BASE hostel in Christchurch I collapsed into bed for an early night's sleep. The following day I was to catch another early bus to Franz Josef. The journey to Franz Josef revealed more of New Zealand's beautiful scenery. We came across more mountains and observed stunning lakes that continued into the horizon as far as the eye could see, the colour of which was an even more striking blue than the sky itself. I arrived at the Chateaux Franz Josef Backpacker's Lodge where I shared a room with three Irish women and a Scotsman. All four were in their 20s like me and were just taking a couple of weeks holiday from their busy lives back home to find out what New Zealand has to offer. Later on in the evening I visited a site where there were natural hot springs, which was only a 10-minute walk from the lodge. I bathed in the 40°C water for about an hour. My body became perfectly relaxed and my mind wandered. I cannot recall a time where I've ever seen a clearer sky than on my walk back to the lodge and I strode along staring straight up at the skies illuminated by a million stars. The following morning I set out to join a full-day hike of the Franz Josef Glacier. On the way we trekked along a narrow footpath where we were surrounded by towering pines before arriving at a vast barren landscape. I found myself muttering the word "wow" under my breath before the tour guide turned round to me and replied, "Isn't it incredible?" A young Kiwi in his early 20s, he had just graduated from university with a degree in mechanical engineering. He decided after graduating that he wanted to be a glacier tour guide for a year in order to have a bit of fun before dedicating himself to ­engineering. As we continued our walk to the glacier we passed a few waterfalls flowing down the edges of the mountains around us. Then we saw it: a mammoth river of ice. A large arch was formed at the glacier's base and a stream of water flowed outward from the cave's dark interior. We were equipped with ropes and crampons and started our ascent to the top of the glacier where we came across a number of newly formed irises - the name given to the cracks and crevices of different sizes that form within the ice as a result of melting. We took turns squeezing through the narrow irises while posing for pictures. We also learnt about the moulins that form on the glacier itself. This feature is also a result of the ice melting. A hole is formed on the glacier's surface, which creates a drainage system where the water that collects finds its way down to the stream that we had observed earlier at the base of the glacier. Moulin is the French word for mill and the formations are so named because of the windmill-like manner in which the water twirls around the hole before trickling down to the stream below. Our ropes and crampons kept us from tumbling down the slippery ice many times. After several close calls we successfully reached the top of the glacier where we were rewarded with the most remarkable view of the surrounding mountains. Next week: Omar visits Milford Sound, a fjord on the South Island