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Where's Jonny? Care to dine with me? You would think that 11 years of daily food tasting for a living might put me off?......au contraire! Chomp away with me across 6 continents. Seduced like a bloodhound to the scent of good food, I anticipate the misty waft of steaming broths, the satisfying crunch of mudbugs and the vibrant aroma of freshly pulverised lemongrass. Buon appetito

Seals, sandflies and sea kayaks

NEW ZEALAND | Monday, 30 July 2007 | Views [1500]

"Beware the hideous biting sandflies of New Zealand," warns Sir Ian McKellan in the Lonley Planet guide.  We relaxed in the knowledge that the icy weather was way too cold for their bloodthirsty mouths.

Not so....for in a place known as Milford Sound the little buggers were wearing tiny fleece jackets.  They descended upon us from pine forests in the sky and raped us without conscience.

Maria had somehow come round to the idea of sea kayaking.  I have no idea why, although she spent some time looking at the instructor in the brochure.

My beloved Canon SLR sadly passed away on a sea kayaking trip in Thailand, so his replacement (another Canon) remained tucked up in bed on this expedition.  Sea, salt and SLRs do not mix.

A sports-obsessed, drill instructor of a woman picked us up in a van at 7am sharp.  The frostiest morning of our trip yet, we might have taken a toboggan on the 2 hour trip across the mountains.

The brochure had promised, "a warm van," but unfortunately the heating had broken which made our breaths steam like kettles on the boil when we spoke.

I wore 7 layers of thermal insulation, 2 fleeces, a jacket, 2 pairs of socks and still palpatated uncontrollably like a character from Rhubarb and Custard.  At this point, getting wet in glacier fed waters seemed as appealing as being eaten by a shark.

The day before we visited the local liquor store in Te Anau in search of a warming brew (and I don't mean tea)

Looking across an array of hard spirits I picked up a half bottle of Jurgermeister.

"This is good for the stomach," I said in a way that prompted an answer.

"Well," replied the laid back lady of bohemian attire, "Do you suffer from bad stomachs?"

"Actually," I replied, "I endure recurrent spasming of the colonic tract."

Unphased, she replied camly, "not being funny, but you might like to try the pharmacy down the road."

She did have a point and maybe I should have made mine earlier.

"We're off sea kayaking tomorrow.  I need something to warm the cockles."

She glanced outside across the frozen lake and seemed to shivver sympathetically.

"Here, this will do the trick," she said whilst producing a bottle from under the counter containing a whisky and ginger concoction.

As the mini bus drove higher into the unknown an early sun was beginning to cast its orangey glow on the snowy mountain tops.

Dark silhouetted terrain was both breathtaking and simultaneously overwhelming.  A feeling of intimidation emerged as colossal mountain faces rose vertically on either side of us and beyond, into the cloud line.

I remembered my first visit to New York and how the skyscrapers there had produced a similar feelings of awe, insignificance and vulnerability.

We journeyed through the treacherous "Avalanche pass," where tons of snow might have fallen at any moment from hundreds of feet above.  Then past "mirror lakes," whose stillness made us gawp, wondering where the trees stopped and the lakes began.  There was a mystical, illusional quality here.  No time for photos though, our driver was on a mission.

A huge grinning mouth swallowed our van.  Inside were rows of sharp icycles like teeth.  We were alone inside the dark recessed of a solid granite tunnel.  There were no lights and a tiny dot of light in the distance was our only hope of escape. 

"Fe" explained that this was called the "Homer tunnel" (no link to the new Simpsons movie this time) and that she runs naked here in a race  every year.  Whilst telling us she didn't smile once.  We began to worry slightly.

After exiting the tunnel we found ourselves in a gorge incredibly high.  A windy road led down through lush mountainside to Milford Sound.

Technically its not a sound but a Fjiord as its Glacier formation chirped Fe as we slipped into our long yellow banana boats.

She led a flotilla of 6 people inside three 2-person kayaks.

Maria was in the back of our Kayak and on rudder duty.  There was one other couple and a single chap who Fe chose to be with.  Lets call him "Steve Redgrave." (he may as well have been)

The others seemed to be very experienced at sea kayaking and stormed out across the water leaving us wishing we'd booked a motor boat tour.

Finally we caught up with the other two kayaks at a waterfall.  It must have been 100ft high and cascaded in slow motion.

Fe and "Steve Redgrave" continued to steam ahead on the turquoise liquid.  We battled to keep up.  Our necks squeezed by waterproof clothing accentuated thick pulsating veins. 

Luckily they stopped ahead for a cleverly camouflaged fur seal.  As we approached the mammal on the grey rocks it slowly applauded our efforts.

"Yeah, its alright for him," I thought, "he's got flippers."

Onwards after a lunch stop of 10 mins (on the water) in the direction of some distant splashes.  Dolphins had been spotted.

Although an incredible distance to cover, we were all excited and Fe powered towards them.  For some time we pursued the pod of playful creatures as they jumped and played in their own group.  They took our minds away from the pain.

A cruise boat passed close sending large waves towards our kayaks.  The wine sipping passengers looked so relaxed on the terrace as they waved at us like parents to children.  Maria looked up enviously and gave them the bird. (she didn't really)

Following the perimeter of the lake we made tracks for home.  There were some brief periods with which to admire the scenery.  I peered through the water near to the rocky edge, through the Colgate gel colour and to the ocean floor itself.  It was alive with white urchins and slowly shifting sea plants.

Fe seemed distressed that Maria and I were unable to keep up with the rest of the group. 

She commanded that we "raft up" where she took me out of my kayak and put me with her!  The humiliation of it all.  Maria got "Steve Redgrave," as my replacement. 

Fe became obsessed with keeping time so I put extra effort into my strokes.  However in a further effort to reduce any prowess left I had as a man she asked that I stop altogether and she paddle only.  The rest of the group looked on sympathetically.

Fe was delighted when we returned at 3pm.  It had been a productive, if not a relaxing day.

We could hardly move for the pain.  4 full hours of paddling left our arms aching, our hands blistered and bitten.

One thing was for sure.  No one was complaining about the cold anymore. 

Tags: Adventures

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