Zen On Dirt

Christmas at Rob Roy Glacier

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One of the main reasons we ended up coming down to NZ this year was to spend Christmas with my brother, who’s here on a year-long work-holiday visa. We’d settled on Wanaka as our location of celebration, and communicated the exact details of meeting up to him the night before as “We’ll roll into Wanaka around 9am. We’ll either be at Urban Roast (amazing coffee) if they’re open or down by the beach.”

When Scott and I rolled into town at 9:30, we weren’t exactly surprised to see a message from my brother sent at 9:15, ‘Leaving Queenstown soon. I’ll text when we get there.’

So we found ourselves the only open bakery in town (I’m all for closing businesses on Christmas, but employees get paid 2.5x their normal rate to work, so I didn’t feel too bad for buying scones and coffee) and settled in for the wait. We spent part of the time talking to another cyclotourist, an Irishman living in Australia, who was riding roads on a Salsa Marakesh. We were also ‘blessed’ by a Californian couple who said they were proud of us for going on our bike trip. They were weird.

Finally, my brother and Vanessa showed up in Yeti, who was finally back from another repair. Yeti is a classic, I’m glad my brother is keeping her/him running.

True to form, we sat around drinking more coffee and eating pies trying to decide what to do with our day. I’m really going to miss the pies here. And the flat whites.

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We settled on a trip up to Rob Roy glacier in Aspiring National Park, and after calling various parents around the globe, we piled the two bikes into the van and headed up the road. There was also some ukulele playing on the beaches of Lake Wanaka, because really, who’s in a hurry.

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While we knew that the road would turn to gravel eventually, we didn’t anticipate 20+ miles of gravel, heavily washboarded gravel. Yeti the Van doesn’t really like washboards, but my brother got it into his head that he wanted to make it to the trailhead. So we went.

Over the washboards, through the fords, to the mountains Yeti Van will go.

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It was definitely a mixture of elation and relief when we finally pulled up to the car park and got down to hiking.

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It was one of the most amazing hikes any of us had been on. Only 10km round trip, there was nothing exceptionally difficult about it, but it deposited us in one of the most amazing alpine cirques I’ve seen with huge glaciers towering overhead and long waterfalls plunging to the valley floors.

Seeing that we hadn’t started hiking until most people were nearly done with their day, the upper valley was essentially empty as we settled down for Christmas dinner: Wraps with hummus, avocado, cheese, salami, and greens. It was maybe the best wrap that I’ve ever had.

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We spent a long time laying in the sun, lounging under the majesty of the mountains, watching the sun light play long the cracks and waves in the glaciers above.

It wasn’t a traditional Christmas by any stretch of the imagination, but being able to spend it with family and friends in such a special location made it a memorable one.

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It wasn’t until long after the sun had left the valley floor that we headed down and back towards the car.

Andras had to work the next day, so he and Vanessa pointed Yeti down the road while Scott and I stayed in the parking lot at the base of Mount Aspiring National Park. There was riding to do, and tramping, and we knew that if we went back to Wanaka, we probably wouldn’t motivate to come back out here, at least this trip.

We waved good-bye, wished them luck on getting across the fords, and laughed as Yeti disappeared in a cloud of dust.

It was definitely a Christmas like no other.

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