Invercargill, New Zealand Glaciers and Mazes

Things are getting kind of strange.

I just drove into Invercargill and checked into Gerard’s Hotel on Esk street. This is my first time in a real bed with sheets and everything in 6 days and I wanted to go crazy with a night in a decent hotel. I wanted a tv, a phone, my own bathroom – all those opulent luxuries. Avoiding the big chains, and finding that most everywhere is full since I didn’t book ahead of time, I wound up here.

This place was built in 1896, and I don’t think it’s changed much since. The room I’m in now is sort of late Victorian ghetto, with the requisite creaky floors, sink in a weird place, and door that leads to a brick wall. I’m in room number 3. My key is one of those enormous brass ones that Ben Franklin used to tie onto kites (note to Australians: nevermind).

None of this would seem odd to me if I were in England, or even somewhere like Massachusetts or Vermont. But I’m on the southern tip of New Zealand. Most everything down here is fairly modern, then suddenly I drive into this colonial time warp called Invercargill. And it’s not like I’m on a historical tour or anything. It’s a cheap, dingy hotel.

There was a lot of whaling done around here back then. That interests me a lot. Folks would leave from Nantucket or Manhattan, make their way down to this area, then wander back to their port of departure, oh, about…15 years later. That’s pretty amazing.

Those whaling guys sure did things on a grand scale. They went out for years at a time, circling a largely unexplored globe to hunt the biggest animals that have ever existed. And it didn’t used to be such an easy thing catching whales – just ask Captain Ahab.

Some changes to the site today. You may notice some new faces bobbing around. That’s Sophie and Brad, who are joining me for different legs of the trip. Their heads will grow to full size once they join up with me. Also, the U.S. map is up. Kristin and Thomas, I don’t have any pictures of either of you, so as soon as you send me some, I’ll slap you up there too.

Tomorrow I’m going to try and get down to Stewart Island. It’s the little-known or visited third island in New Zealand, and it’s one of the southernmost human settlements on Earth. Outside of Antarctica, the tip of South America, and a handful of uninhabited islands, it’s as far south as you can get. It’s also, without a doubt, the closest I’ve ever been to the south pole. I get a big kick out of that.

In Christchurch, they discourage juvenile delinquency by making the boys dress up like Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls.


I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Over a week ago now, I went on a day hike up Fox Glacier. It was fun-ucational.

Crampons are an unpleasant name for ice climbing cleats. I don’t want to wear anything called a crampon.

I finally learned what those pickaxes are for that old-fashioned mountaineering guys carry. They’re used to carve out footsteps in the ice, and they’re very handy. Our guide took us up almost sheer vertical surfaces, and we didn’t even really need handholds.

We ran into a mummified possum about halfway up the glacier. It’d been in the ice for who-knows how many years. Its fur was mostly gone and its skin was like leather strips wrapped around bone. The guy in front of me was standing on it when I nudged him to look down. He handled the moment well.

A glacier is like a river moving in slow motion. There’s a big chunk of ice up in the mountains and it’s spilling out into the sea. The ice is coming down through a narrow pass at 3 to 5 meters a day and carrying tons of rock along with it. Once the glacier has melted completely, what you’ve got left is a fiord. More on fiords later.

It was really interesting how much the glacier changed every day. They were constantly hacking out new steps and paths, as the old ones immediately started moving and reshaping once they were made. The guide goes up there daily, and hardly anything is familiar from one visit to the next.


Img_0405_1 Img_0415_1

…boring pictures.

My hiking group included disgraced former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Mike Seaver as played by television star Kirk Cameron.

Kirk_neville1 Kirk_neville2

Disgraced former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was still really upset about signing the Munich Pact. “Peace in our time,” he said. “Peace in our time! I sounded like an absolute fool. I am remembered as a spineless pushover.”

Mike Seaver as played by television star Kirk Cameron tried to cheer him up. “Don’t worry about how you’re remembered. Take me for example, I don’t remember you at all (pause for laugh track). And avoiding fights isn’t such a bad thing. One time at school, the class bully was picking on my friend, Boner, so I told him to ‘stuff it.’ He challenged me to a fight in the parking lot, but I chickened out. I felt pretty bad that night, until my dad explained to me that fighting isn’t always the best solution. So the next day, instead of fighting, I talked to him. He turned out to be a pretty okay guy.”

That didn’t make disgraced former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain feel better at all. He just rolled his eyes, waved farewell, then jumped to his death in a crevasse.


The day after the hike I found out there was another death on the same day at nearby Arthur’s Pass. It was three guys traveling on their own rather than in a guided group, but they were doing more or less the same thing as us. The crampons make it pretty easy to walk, but there are lots of holes in the ice that go down for hundreds of feet and you can slip in there if you’re not careful.

I miss my old balcony view. Before I left, I used Eric’s camera to try and piece together a panorama.


On the way to Queenstown I stumbled across a place called Puzzle World. It sounded like my kind of tourist trap.

Surprisingly, the optical illusion on this wall still works really well in the photo. Look at it and try and decide if the rows are curved or straight.


Here’s a close-up of the very same wall.


The big draw was the giant multi-level maze. It was fun, but damn frustrating. And you get really tired having to actually walk around inside there.

Img_0442 Img_0434


Img_0440_1 Img_0441

I did it the hard way and was wandering around in there for an hour and a half.

The bathroom had roman-style toilets.


This was my favorite thing in the whole place.


I’ve still got lots more to catch up on. I haven’t gotten to the Milford Trek yet. I kept a journal of it and there are tons of pictures. I’m going to get to that next.

I lost feeling of the big toe of my right foot on the trek, and I still haven’t gotten it back. Kind of freaky.

Dan, I’ve got an addition to the list of non-bilaterally symetrical animals. It’s a New Zealand bird called the Wrybill. Its beak bends to the right so it can scoop up creatures that burrow in the mud.


Can anyone else name any? They have to be an animal species whose left and right sides are not identical, and it doesn’t count if they’re asymetrical as a result of mutation or dismemberment.

Just checking my email and everyone is telling me about some pneumonia going around in Asia.