'Yes, it's cancelled. Everything's cancelled'

BEN GROUNDWATER
Last updated 09:28 24/07/2013
MtCook-landscape
Mytchall Bransgrove

MOUNT COOK: "I was supposed to be on an adventure that day, taking a helicopter up to a glacier, followed by ice-climbing on the mountain."

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There's a Crowded House song stuck in my head.

Not just because I'm in New Zealand and it seems like the right thing to listen to, but because it also fits nicely with my situation. ''Everywhere you go,'' Neil Finn sings to me, ''always take the weather with you. Everywhere you go, always take the weather ...''

I kind of wish I did bring the weather, because when I left Australia a few days ago, the sun was shining out of a flawless blue sky and everything was right with the world.

Over here in NZ? Not so much.

It started when I landed on a grey Christchurch day, the clouds hanging low over the city. Already there were rumours something much worse was approaching.

Weather forecasting can be like Chinese whispers - according to some it was going to snow later in the week; others predicted nothing more than light rain; some talked darkly of a ''polar blast'' set to attack the Land of the Long White Cloud from the south.

In any event, it was only drizzling when I left Christchurch and pointed my four-wheel-drive towards Mount Cook.

Down in the south the sun shone in between bouts of low cloud. No polar blast here, but it wasn't perfect.

You'd hit thick fog and then suddenly burst out the other side like an AFL team running through a pre-game banner, emerging in brilliant sunshine before once again ploughing into a cloud.

I hiked that afternoon around Mount Cook, taking in the beauty of the Mackenzie District. Still, however, locals were muttering about the big storm, when the weather would turn vicious in this friendly land.

Next day the clouds had rolled in with intent. There was no rain yet, or snow, but the sky looked fat with precipitation. Things had begun going wrong.

I was supposed to be on an adventure that day, taking a helicopter flight up to a glacier in the New Zealand Alps, followed by ice-climbing on the mountain. That, clearly, was cancelled.

Locals were starting to get skittish, talking about bunkering down so they didn't get caught up in the storm.

I, meanwhile, had driven down to Lake Tekapo and was asking about my star-gazing experience that night. ''Oh, it's not on tonight,'' one of the astronomers grinned. ''Have you seen the weather? It won't be on for ... well, at least a couple of nights.''

Right. This is what happens when you travel, unfortunately.

Despite the Finns' advice, you can never take the weather with you. It's one of those uncontrollable factors that leaves travellers at its mercy.

I was at Lake Tekapo's mercy. I spent the afternoon relaxing alone in the hot springs - everyone else seemed to have headed for the safety of home.

By the time I was driving to my hotel the first flakes of snow had begun drifting from above. ''Big, big snow tonight,'' said the guy at reception.

''They reckon a metre! Biggest storm in 20 years, eh?''

This, clearly, did not bode well for my hike up Mount John the next day. Or my drive back to Christchurch. Or anything else I wanted to do bar sit in my hotel room and drink pinot noir while the snow cascaded down outside.

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Sure enough, by the next morning it was knee-deep on the ground and still coming down.

My car was a white blob among the other white blobs in the parking lot. The highway was closed in all directions. I was stranded. So ... Is my hike cancelled? Yes. Everything's cancelled.

What do you do in a situation like this?

Do you get frustrated at all the things you're missing out on? Do you rage at the weather gods and curse your bad luck?

Or do you wade through the now waist-deep snow to the general shop for another bottle of pinot?

I was doing a little of both.

By that afternoon I was down to a quarter of a bottle and the snow was still tumbling out of the sky, despite me shaking a fist in its general direction.

Every now and then there'd be a sharp crack and a ''whump!'' as a drift of snow broke off my roof and fell to the ground below, but other than that it was quiet as people bunkered down and the white stuff piled up.

The reception staff talked ominously of three or four days of isolation. This was not what I had planned. My flight home wasn't going to happen.

Still, what can you do?

There was always that warm hotel room, that bottle of pinot, and a stereo.

And Crowded House.

Have you ever had your travel plans changed due to bad weather? How did you deal with it? Post a comment below.

The writer was a guest of Canterbury Tourism.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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