My holiday got off to a dubious start. In fact, I wasn't sure if I didn't need to delay it a day after spending the day/night before departure in bed, wracked with fever chills while sweating and freaking out with weird dreams. While tired, I decided getting away may be a good distraction so Sunday, I set out for Hokitika on the West Coast.
I took my time, listening to my trashy novel on MP3, covering quite a bit of ground already seen from previous jaunts to Lake Rotihiti and Westport, although this time the scenery looked spectacular with snow all around.
My first stop, Birdsong Backpackers, which was very cruisy - just what I needed. With just 6 guests, it was homely and relaxing to hear the sound of the surf. I was a bit disappointed with Hokitika itself - it has set itself up as an artisans village but, while there were some smaller galleries - the massive 'jade factories' added a disturbingly commercial touch.
Onward to Franz Josef, home for the next two days and where the fun really starts. Despite a still persistant cough (apologies to my dorm-sharers), I decided I was fit enough for a full day glacier hike. Having donned our appropriate outfits and been fitted for crampons - a 45 minute process) we took the bus for the 10 minute ride to the glacier carpark. From there, another 45 minute trek took us to the start. Crampons on, jacket off, into small groups of 9, introduction to Johnny our fearless guide from Delaware, and we were off.
The crampons take a little getting used to, and I had some major mistrust issues that they would do their job in grabbing into the ice, but I didn't seem to be slipping so all good. We got perfect weather conditions and raised quite the sweat as we went up. Photos won't do the glacier justice, and it's hard to describe but it was strange seeing ice surrounded by trees and rocks so near-by. There were plenty of 'photo' stops but we did maintain an fairly even march.
Lunch was only 15 minutes, which I thought scabby initially but having stopped, after five minutes we started to get cold. By 15 we were well finished and urging Johnny to get going. At times, we would walk over thick ice, where you could see water underneath and I held my breath - as if this would help lighten me so the ice wouldn't crack. It didn't. Crack, or lighten me. We found a 'moulin' - probably spelt wrong - but a natural tunnel formed by gathered water. Sliding through an ice tunnel would have been disconcerting had it not been only 2.5 metres long. Parts of the ice were an amazing blue, just water perfectly frozen. Other parts had artistic forms of colour caused by dirt blown across the glacier.
Coming back down, the sun and countless crampon-wielding visitors had turned parts of the track to slush. Johnny kept cutting steps in to help us but at one point our feet were submerged in crushed ice.
Almost 6 hours to the minute, we stepped off the glacier and enjoyed the chance to sit down to remove our crampons, before starting the trek back to the bus. By the time we returned to the guides base in town, I was shattered ... but with that exhausted contentment of having had an amazing experience.
Looking back on the return to the carpark made me realise how little of the glacier you get to see from the bottom, satisfying me that a day's trek had been well worth it.
I woke the next morning to a power blackout in the whole town. Not sure if it was connected to the horrific weather NZ has been having, or a regular thing for a small town in a fairly isolated area. But I was heading on to Wanaka, through the beautiful Haast Pass.
The drive was through tropical rainforest for much of the way, before heading into typical Alpine mountain terrain. Snowcapped mountains were never out of view. For some reason, I really found the sign 'Gates of Haast' funny (only because I was saying them in an demonic voice in my head) and had to get a photo from both sides of the one-lane bridge.
I also stopped at the Blue Pools of Haast, which were an amazing blue that I can't even describe. Nature at its best but if I got married, that would be the colour of my dress. To get to them, you meander through lush native forest, with trees covered in bright green moss.
I got into Wanaka and was really disappointed with my backpackers - long stayers who were quite unfriendly and had spread out leaving little space in the room. I went to the funky Cinema Paradiso to see the fourth Indianna Jones to get away, a treat in itself. The cinema has sofa couches and even a morris minor as its seating. At intermission, they sell freshly baked biscuits, all in a building covered in both modern and nostalgic movie posters and funky decor. Very comfortable, very alternative and very popular. As for the movie ... hmmmm.
I got up early and got out. But before I left Wanaka, which I cannot dismiss - it is a charming little town but I have been before so felt safe in moving on - I stopped in at Puzzling World. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Very well done on the illusions, the puzzles and the maze was great. I congratulated myself on getting to all four towers within half an hour - the challenge that is set and is stated to take 30 - 60 minutes. But it took me all of another half an hour to get to the finish. I swear I have memorised parts of it by going in circles, and kept meeting the same frustrated but amused people going in their own loops.
Driving on, the weather finally started to turn bad so my drive over the Crown Pass was a little ... intimidating. Especially since the sign said to carry chains, which I wasn't. I went slowly, stopping for a comparison photo at a spot I visited last September but is now covered in snow, and obviously didn't slide out or tumble to my death. Through a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, I wound my way past Queenstown, and onto Te Anau.
Which is were I am writing this update so the rest will be continued soon...along with photos.